The Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to the second round of the playoffs on Sunday with a 4-0 sweep of the Boston Celtics.
They also got dealt two major blows that will make a potential series against the Chicago Bulls their biggest challenge yet.
Kevin Love dislocated his shoulder after he got tangled up with Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk. While Love suggested it was dirty, calling it a “bush league” play, Olynyk said it was unintentional.
Here was the play:
Love immediately ran back to the locker room, and ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Love is likely out a minimum of two weeks.
Later in the third quarter of the game, J.R. Smith was ejected for hitting Celtics wing Jae Crowder in the face, knocking him to the ground, and seemingly hurting his knee in the process.
Crowder was diagnosed with a left knee sprain and didn’t return. Smith said after the game, “I’m nervous as hell” about being suspended.
Two years ago to the day on Sunday, Smith was suspended one game for elbowing Jason Terry in the face during the Knicks-Celtics first-round matchup. His hit on Crowder looked even more malicious, and given his history, could earn him a two- or three-game suspension, as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin suggested.
With Love out several weeks and Smith potentially missing the first few games of the second-round series (the NBA is yet to make an official ruling), the Cavaliers will be short-handed facing (likely) the Chicago Bulls, who need one more win over the Milwaukee Bucks to advance.
Love and Smith were the Cavaliers’ third and fourth best scorers during the regular season, averaging 16.4 points and 12.7 points, respectively. They have also been the Cavaliers’ best floor-spacers, shooting 37% and 39%, respectively, from three-point range in the regular season. Though Smith struggled shooting in the first round, Love was on fire, averaging 14 points on 43% shooting from three-point range.
Love’s injury changes the Cavaliers’ big man rotation dramatically. Love’s ability to spread the floor as a power forward gives LeBron James and Kyrie Irving room to drive and attack the basket. In his place, the Cavs may be forced to start Tristan Thompson, a good rebounder who doesn’t have Love’s shooting ability, which will change Cleveland’s spacing on offence.
The Love injury could also force the Cavs to play LeBron, Thompson, and Timofey Mozgov huge minutes as a frontcourt trio. When they need rest, the Cavs will likely go to Kendrick Perkins off the bench, who has a -17 net rating on the court in 167 minutes this season.
This is horrible timing for the Cavs as they get ready to play the Bulls (barring a historic Bucks comeback) in what has been the most anticipated Eastern Conference matchup all season. The Bulls are finally healthy, with Derrick Rose leading the charge, and would present many matchup problems for a short-handed Cavs team.
Though the Cavs will start with home-court advantage, if they lose just one of those first two games without Love and Smith, homecourt will suddenly shift to a Bulls team with momentum.
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