The Cleveland Cavaliers have swept the Boston Celtics, and now move on to what will very likely be a second round matchup with the Chicago Bulls. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance not every Cavs player will be there for the Game 1.
To call the final game of the Cleveland-Boston series “physical” wouldn’t be doing it any justice whatsoever. The Celtics had been scrappy throughout the entire round, and today was no different. However, for the first time, the physicality began taking a toll.
Kevin Love, who had a particularly solid Game 3 performance and appeared to be building off it early today, left the court in severe pain after mixing it up with Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk. The Boston big man appeared to yank on Love’s arm, effectively pulling his shoulder out of socket. Love didn’t return, and the concern for his health will be on high alert until further diagnosis is released.
Of course, the feisty play didn’t stop there. In what may have been retaliation, Cavs backup Kendrick Perkins made a rare appearance and did everything he could to make it count. Perkins laid an aggressive screen on Celtics forward Jae Crowder, appearing to throw him down by the throat. How Perkins escaped it without an ejection is beyond me, but Crowder’s day of taking aggressive hits didn’t end there.
Attempting to fight for a rebound, Crowder was apparently too hostile for Cavs guard J.R. Smith’s taste. Smith responded by throwing a vicious backhand across Crowder’s face. As if that wasn’t enough damage, Crowder sprained his knee while falling after the hit.
To the surprise of no one, Smith was ejected from the game. After starting with a full squad, the Cavs were down two key players by mid-third quarter. Though Perkins avoided getting booted from the game, don’t be surprised if his eligibility for the next round comes into question after his play is given further evaluation.
So, while Cleveland made it through the first round without losing a game, they certainly didn’t avoid significant losses. Though the sweep is complete, you have to wonder just what exactly the Cavs’ starting lineup will look like once the next round begins.
The biggest concern, obviously, is the health of Love. The injury was bad enough to immediately send him running for the locker room, which is hardly promising. The odds certainly don’t favor him getting right back into the swing of things next game. Stranger things have happened, sure, but right now many Cavs fans are holding their breath.
If there’s any bright side to Love’s situation, it’s that the injury occurred on his left, non-shooting arm. Depending on the severity of the damage, he could possibly try to play through it knowing it doesn’t significantly impact his shot.
Power forward isn’t the only position question marks are hovering over for Cleveland. There’s a zero percent chance Smith doesn’t face further discipline for his swipe at Crowder. It certainly didn’t look like anything you could qualify as “incidental,” and a suspension is a very real possibility for him. For the Cavs, the concern shouldn’t be whether or not Smith is suspended, it’s how long.
Additionally, what if Perkins gets bounced for a game or two, as well? Granted, he’s clearly not on the same level of importance as Love or Smith. Still, if he misses time, Cleveland is looking at a significantly depleted front-court. Without Love or Perkins, the Cavs will have to rely heavily on Tristan Thompson and play James Jones at power forward much more than anyone would like.
Yes, Cleveland achieved its goal of getting through the first round of the postseason. At the same time, there are major causes for concern as they prep for their next opponent. The Cavs better spend whatever time they have before their next game praying for a great prognosis on Love and that the NBA disciplinary department is in a very lenient mood this week.