Rudolf Wanderone, meet Kevin Love.
Like the legendary billiards player known as Minnesota Fats, Minnesota Kevin hustled the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, scoring a playoff career-high 32 points and pulling down 12 rebounds as the Cavaliers cruised to an easy 117-104 victory at TD Garden.
It was a performance reminiscent of the 6-foot-10 power forward’s big-number days with the Minnesota Timberwolves, when he was the first option on offense and often the second and third as well.
That wasn’t lost on teammate LeBron James, whose 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists present the Celtics with multiple problems heading into
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series tonight at 8:30 at TD Garden.
“He came through for us,” James said. “We want the mentality of Kevin from Minnesota, but his usage rate (doesn’t) have to be as high as Minnesota.
“Obviously, we all know he was a featured guy pretty much every possession going down the floor (with the Timberwolves), and here that’s changed a bit because we have other guys, but his mentality needs to stay the same as Minnesota.”
Now in his third season with the Cavs, that wasn’t always the case for Love, especially in his first year in Cleveland, when he probably sacrificed too much of his individual ability because he wanted desperately to fit in with James and Irving as the third member of The Big Three.
There were a number of times when Love simply drifted to the corner and waited for a pass that often didn’t come, and he sometimes disappeared from games if he didn’t get involved in the offense early on.
Love’s mental toughness grew in 2015-16, and it improved even more this season, which was on full display in the series opener with Boston.
“He was aggressive,” James said, adding, “Definitely, that mentality from Minnesota is what we all love.”
After scoring just nine points in Game 2 vs. Toronto in the conference semifinals and six in Game 4 — he was defended by Serge Ibaka, and James and Kyrie Irving were the featured players in that series sweep — Love went 9-for-16 from the field, made six of nine 3-pointers and was 8-for-9 at the line in Game 1 vs. the Celtics.
Love became the second player not named LeBron James to have 30 points and 10 rebounds in a Cavs playoff game, joining Brad Daugherty, who accomplished the feat in 1992. He joined Miami’s Dwyane Wade as the only James teammate to have a 30-10 game in the postseason.
“It doesn’t matter to me if I’m getting five shots or 25 shots,” Love said. “I just want to win. I know I can impact the game whether it shows up in the stat sheet or not.
“I think that allowed me to be more comfortable out there on the floor, knowing that my mindset is really there, still being aggressive and making plays.”
When Boston attempted to defend Love with rugged 6-4 guard Marcus Smart, he successfully posted up. When the Celtics turned to a bigger player like Al Horford or Kelly Olynyk, Love moved away from the hoop and scored from the perimeter.
“He was just being aggressive,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “Just knowing him over the last three years, when (the offense) starts inside-out, that’s when his 3-ball gets working.
“LeBron has been playing so well that we really haven’t had a chance to really feature Kevin. But we’ve been talking, and he’s been ready. (Game 1) was a huge performance from him. We needed that.”
In a rarity, Love was on the floor without James or Irving to start the second quarter, when Cleveland extended a 13-point lead to 16.
“Kyrie and LeBron went out (of the game) and I told him I was going to feature him,” Lue said. “He did a good job of carrying the load. We did a good job of getting the basketball to him and he came up big for us.”