the concussed Kevin Love‘s starting lineup replacement for the team’s critical Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday night. The selection could provide an indication of how the Cavs will try to find a lifeline in this series.Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue has officially announced
Veteran forward Richard Jefferson will start Game 3, said Lue in his pre-game press conference. The 35-year-old was the Cavs’ best player other than LeBron James in Sunday’s brutal blowout at Oracle Arena, scoring 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 26 minutes. Jefferson had not previously seen that much playing time in the playoffs and saw more than 25 minutes just 11 times in his 74 regular-season appearances.
Lue explained his preference for Jefferson in some detail:
Just like his physicality, able to catch the ball, straight-line drive, moves well without the basketball when we get stagnant. Just going off his last game in Game 2, I thought he really played well, and that’s who we decided to go with.
That answer suggests that Lue does not intend to disrupt Cleveland’s game-opening plan in any massive way. While Jefferson is a natural small forward and Love is a power forward, he is not so much faster that we can say the Cavs now clearly intend to push the pace. Where Jefferson could help a lot is as a defender, particularly when Cleveland opts to switch on screens. Love has been terrible in such situations throughout the series and in previous matchups with Golden State this season.
Jefferson does not figure to play 35-plus minutes, so players such as outside-shooting big man Channing Frye and even little-used center Timofey Mozgov could see more minutes in an attempt to cover for Love’s scoring and rebounding. Lue could also reverse course and occasionally try to mimic David Blatt’s strategy in the Love-less 2015 NBA Finals by playing two big men in an attempt to control the boards and keep the Warriors from getting out in transition.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that one lineup change will not solve every problem the Cavaliers have had to open the finals. They need every player to perform better in any system or lineup configuration Lue uses.
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