Kevin Love has come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals before. Here’s what he’s telling his Miami Heat teammates.
For Kevin Love, these NBA Finals are a matter of perspective.
Love joined the Miami Heat after being bought out by the Cavaliers, where he wasn’t getting playing time, and was immediately thrust into a starting role. He lost that job toward the end of the regular season, regained it in the playoffs, went back to the bench in the conference finals and then returned to the starting lineup in Game 2 of the Finals.
After losing two straight at home, the Heat find themselves looking up at a 3-1 deficit, something only one other team in NBA history has managed to come back from and win the championship.
That team happens to be Love’s 2016 Cavaliers, when LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Love rallied from 3-1 down to beat the Warriors and win the championship. So given the Heat’s latest challenge, there are few players more valuable to have in their locker room than Love.
And, of course, there’s the personal matter of Love and his wife celebrating the birth of their child over the weekend. After a crushingly disappointing loss in Game 4 on Friday, Love stayed in Miami to be with his family, then flew up Sunday morning to rejoin the team. In times like these, perspective is important.
“We’ve been a very resilient team, a team that is consistently giving effort, consistently giving endless support to each other,” Love said Sunday. “Our locker room has been amazing. Coaching staff has been amazing. Organization has been incredibly supportive. So any time you have that, you give yourself a chance to do some special things.”
“Special” doesn’t come close to describing what it would be for the Heat to bounce back and win this series. Miraculous might be more appropriate. But players and coaches aren’t thinking about things that way. Rather, the message is about taking it one possession, quarter and game at a time. That’s how Love’s Cavs managed to do the impossible in 2016, and he’s sharing the same message with his teammates now.
“I have been part of it before,” Love said after Friday’s loss. “You really just have to take it one possession at a time. Forget the game. It’s just one possession, one quarter, half to half. Just get it done by any means necessary.”
Love reiterated that message when asked about the team’s mindset on Sunday.
“We understand that it’s every possession, it’s one game. I know that’s something that is cliché and everybody says but again, we feel like if we come out, have a good start tomorrow, play extremely hard and give ourselves a chance and take it back to Miami, that is right where we want to be.”
But a level-headed approach won’t be enough for the Heat to win Game 5 in Denver, let alone three straight. The Heat have been thoroughly out-played in the first four games of the NBA Finals. The Nuggets have been able to win in multiple ways — Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray dominating, teammates stepping up for big games and with surprisingly overwhelming defensive stretches — while the Heat have struggled to find consistent threads to pull on.
Miami’s lone win in the series was the only game in which they shot better than 40% from 3-point range. The Heat’s once-hot armada of shooters has gone cold and, unless they bounce back in Game 5, may not have a way to match points with the mighty Nuggets.
“Naturally, when your back is up against the wall, you start to look for answers,” Love said.
One of the answers Love’s 2016 Cavs came up with was the pick-and-roll between James and Irving. Against Golden State’s switching defense, the Cavs spammed that action over and over, dictating the matchups they wanted and pummeling the smaller Warriors inside.
What such solution exists for the Heat? Denver tightened up its defense on Miami’s 3-point shooters in Games 3 and 4. The Heat have found only small fragments of success with Butler and Adebayo attacking the basket and dropping off passes to baseline cutters, and the two stars have had a hard time finishing in the paint against Denver’s size.
It will take a super-human effort from Butler and Adebayo, who have been tasked with so much already. Perhaps a shooter like Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson or Caleb Martin gets hot and is able to create more space for the team’s stars, or Miami can ace Denver’s offensive timing and create turnovers they can score off of. Whatever it is, the answer won’t be simple. This is not an enviable spot for coach Erik Spoelstra and the No. 8 seed Heat.
“Game 5 is always a tough game in the series if you can push it there,” Love said. “We just have to come out to our game, stick to our schemes both offensively and defensively. There are some things that have been glaring for us. We’ll go out there and get the job done.”