Seven years ago, Kevin Love played 30 minutes for the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, where he was a +19 in Cleveland’s four-point victory and a major catalyst in their historic comeback over the Golden State Warriors after falling behind 3-1.
In Monday’s Game 7 victory over the revitalized Boston Celtics, he registered his second DNP-CD of the last two games.
Love, who will be 35 in September, has seen a lot of change in the seven years since becoming an NBA champion. He’s now married to his longtime girlfriend, Kate Bock, and he plays for a new team in a new city. For most guys, this would signal that it’s time to consider hanging it up.
As a matter of fact, his impact on winning is seemingly felt now more than ever. Just in a different way. He’s brought joy back to the Miami Heat locker room.
From the “Lead us Kevin” mantra that has swept through the team to the pesty antics on the sidelines with Jimmy Butler, this team is having fun while playing basketball. And it all starts with Love.
“Kevin coming, I think he totally changed the whole dynamic of our locker room,” said Duncan Robinson when speaking on what Love’s presence has meant for the team.
“Just his character, his levity, what he brought just in terms of, like, connecting people, having a sense of humor.”
When Love joined the Miami Heat back in February, he joined a deflated team. Sure, they had only fallen one shot shy of reaching the NBA finals a few months prior, but the wear and tear of a long postseason run and injuries had seemingly caught up to it. It only sat five games above .500 and was 7th in the Eastern Conference standings.
Love was in no means expected to be the savior, but his skill set was a welcome sight among Heat fans. A big man who can stretch the floor and rebound alongside Bam Adebayo. This was encouraging.
But fast-forward to the present and Miami’s biggest contribution from Love has been his team-first approach.
“When you have a guy who’s played in four NBA finals, you know, won a championship, gets pulled from a rotation in the middle of a series and his immediate reaction is uplifting the guy who’s replacing him. I mean that alone sets the tone down the line for everybody else”, said Robinson.
These words from Robinson are significant because he himself was pulled from the Heat’s rotation earlier in the season. He’s now gone from the butt of everyone’s jokes to a key cog in Miami’s offensive attack. You can bet your bottom dollar that Love has played a role in Robinson’s comeback.
Love’s energy and team-first approach was on full display even before the playoffs began and it helped set the tone for what this team is accomplishing now.
Back in April after a 101-92 loss to the New York Knicks in which Kevin Love played poorly, Erik Spoelstra decided to start Cody Zeller for the team’s next game against the Chicago Bulls. Rather than sulking on the bench, Love responded with one of his best games in a Heat uniform.
He finished with 18 points in 19 minutes, five rebounds, and two threes. More importantly, the Heat got the victory. Love’s selflessness that night even inspired Miami’s leader.
“K-Love has always been about winning”, said Butler, who is enjoying another mythological postseason run.
“As long as we win, he’s not going to complain, nobody’s going to complain, because whether it’s our last four games of the season or our last 24 games of the season, he’s always been about winning. And if that helps us win, that’s what he’s going to do and he’s not going to complain about it.
On Thursday night, Miami will take the court against the Denver Nuggets in what will be the franchise’s seventh finals appearance in its 34-year history and sixth since 2010.
For Love, this marks his fifth finals appearance, which means he’s made the finals in every season of his career that he’s made the playoffs.
While we can hardly predict what his role in this series will be, one thing’s for sure – he will be the loudest teammate on the sideline. Laughing, smiling, and flailing his towel around every time one of his teammates makes a play.
“I didn’t come here to shoot 15 shots a game or ask for more,” Love said. “I just wanted to be able to make my impact, make my stamp on the game. Sometimes it’s not going to show up in the stat sheet; sometimes it is, but you’re affecting winning. That’s kind of where I’m at in my career right now.”
As for the “Lead us Kevin” phrase, according to Max Strus it was started during a practice.
“It was like a shooting drill that Chris Quinn was running in practice”, said Strus on the origins of the term.
“And he [Quinn] just said ‘Kevin, go first’. And I just said, ‘Lead us Kevin’, out of nowhere. I didn’t think it would stick like this. But it’s kind of running its own race. It’s been fun. It’s hilarious. And everybody’s buying into it.”
For those keeping score at home, the last time Miami had a pertinent mantra during the playoffs was back in 2006 when Pat Riley coined the “15 Strong” phrase.
We all know what happened that season.