Programming note: "Warriors NBA Finals Central" airs tonight at 5 p.m., and immediately after Game 3 on CSN Bay Area Plus. Both shows will be streaming live right here.
Two games into the NBA Finals the Warriors would like to see MVP-level Stephen Curry, peak-performance Andrew Bogut and the Draymond Green who stretches defenses to the snapping point.
All three could appear at any time, though, and that can’t be said of the man who represents the surest, quickest fix for the Warriors offense in the NBA Finals.
Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is not stepping on the floor anytime soon.
Love’s absence due to a season-ending dislocated left shoulder has resulted in a vastly improved Cleveland defense. His replacement, Tristan Thompson, is a better on-ball defender and plays infinitely better team defense.
That much was evident in the previous rounds of the postseason and it’s no different now as the Warriors search for holes in the Cavs’ defense.
It’s not that anybody on either team is citing Love’s absence as a factor, but Cleveland’s defense is being praised more now than it was before Love sustained a season-ending injury in Game 4 of a first-round sweep of Boston.
Asked if Cleveland’s defense is the best the Warriors have seen this season, Curry thought for a moment.
“I mean, they’re up there,” he said. “That’s why they’re here. They don’t get to The Finals without some sort of defensive presence. Having that mentality, that’s what’s going to help you win. So they have talent on that end. They hustle. They work hard, and they have athleticism that helps them in the situation.
“So they’re a great defensive team.”
The numbers agree and, moreover, illustrate the difference with and without Love. Cleveland “held” teams to 45.6 percent shooting in the regular season but has pushed that number down to 41.3 percent in the playoffs.
The same team that was 20th in that category in the regular season, when Love was a fixture, is No. 2 in a postseason in which he has played only three full games.
It’s a different unit without Love and the Warriors are feeling it.
To be clear, the Thompson-for-Love change isn’t the only reason the Warriors are feeling challenged by Cleveland’s defense. The in-season acquisitions of Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov also have helped.
But there is no denying Love’s absence has benefitted the Cavs on defense. The Warriors are not surprised.
There were several reasons why the Warriors decided against trading Klay Thompson as part of a package to acquire Love last summer. Though they were intrigued by Love when he was available, the Warriors fled in the other direction after taking a good look at his defense.
So Love landed in Cleveland. The Warriors can only wish he were in a Cavs jersey for the rest of this series.