CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers will move forward in the NBA playoffs without Kevin Love and with their title hopes shaken.
Cleveland’s starting forward has been ruled out for the team’s next playoff series — and perhaps longer — after dislocating his left shoulder in Sunday’s win to sweep the Boston Celtics.
Love, playing in his first postseason as a pro, got hurt when he got tangled with Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk while chasing a loose ball in the first quarter. Olynyk clamped down on Love’s arm and pulled so hard it popped out of the shoulder joint. Love had an MRI and other tests performed Monday and the team said he sustained a dislocation with torn ligaments and labrum.
It’s a potentially devastating blow to the Cavs, who are likely to face Chicago in the second round. The Bulls lead the Milwaukee Bucks 3-1 in their best-of-seven series entering Monday night’s Game 5.
The Cavs said Love will obtain more medical opinions. There is a possibility Love could need surgery, which would end his postseason.
Cleveland acquired Love last summer in a blockbuster trade, teaming one of the game’s best stretch forwards with All-Stars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, giving the Cavs a “Big 3” capable of ending the city’s championship drought dating to 1964.
The Cavs also will begin their Eastern Conference semifinal series without starting guard J.R. Smith, suspended for two games without pay after committing a flagrant 2 foul, prompting his ejection from Game 4 on Sunday. Smith swung backward with a clenched fist and smacked Boston’s Jae Crowder in the jaw, dropping the Celtics guard, who sprained a ligament in his left knee.
The league also suspended Olynyk for his move on Love, which looked more like an MMA hold than an NBA box-out. Olynyk will have to sit out the first 2015-16 regular-season game he is able to play.
Before learning the severity of Love’s injury, James, a two-time champion who has been to four straight Finals, said the Cavs would have to overcome any adversity in their way.
“It’s next man up, depending on what goes on with our team. That’s two big pieces, obviously, but next man up,” he said. “No excuses.”
The Cavs do have experience without Love on the floor. While he was a productive player during his first season with Cleveland, he often sat in the fourth quarter and there were times when he appeared disconnected from his teammates. However, that seemed to change when the playoffs started, and Love referred to his teammates as “my brothers” on several occasions.
Love’s future in Cleveland has been a season-long subject. He can opt out of his contract this summer and there has been speculation he’ll sign elsewhere. However, the way the Cavs responded when he went down Sunday was perhaps a sign that Love is more attached to Cleveland than previously believed.
Following Sunday’s game, Love, who had played well in his first playoff series, said he was convinced Olynyk tried to hurt him.
“I thought it was a bush-league play,” said Love, his left arm cradled in a sling. “It’s just too bad that he would go to those lengths to take somebody out of the game and do that to someone. I have no doubt in my mind that he did that on purpose.”
Love added he hoped the league’s ruling would be “swift and just.”
Smith felt the league’s wrath quickly, getting hit with a suspension the Cavs could ill afford.
Smith has had few previous problems since arriving in Cleveland despite bringing a reputation for late nights and a short fuse when he was traded from New York. He was remorseful following the game.
“It’s a selfish act because I don’t want anything that we do collectively to be taken away by one individual, whether it’s me or anybody else,” said Smith, who has been suspended in the past.
The Cavs dodged more trouble when the league only decided to fine Kendrick Perkins $15,000 for a hard foul on Sunday. Perkins came in after Love got hurt and flattened Crowder with a high, hard pick, drawing a flagrant 1 but avoiding an ejection. The league upgraded the foul to a flagrant 2.
Coach David Blatt does have options to replace Love. Forward Tristan Thompson was an unsung hero against the Celtics, outworking Boston’s big men on the boards. Although he can’t score or space the floor like Love, Thompson showed in his first taste of the postseason that he’s ready for the stage.
Blatt can offset Smith’s absence by giving more playing time to Iman Shumpert, the team’s best perimeter defender. Shumpert was slated to be Cleveland’s starting “off” guard alongside Kyrie Irving, but had a lingering shoulder injury when he arrived from the Knicks and Blatt liked the energy he provided to the second unit.
Cleveland also has veterans Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones — all NBA champions — on the bench.
Most importantly, Blatt has James, who can play four positions and has carried less-talented teams to the Finals.
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