Can Love conquer all for Cleveland in NBA Finals?
Confident and assertive, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love has found his scoring touch just when the defending NBA champions need it most - in an NBA Finals rematch with Golden State.
Cleveland superstars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will go head-to-head against Golden State's Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry in much-anticipated head-to-head matchups in the best-of-seven showdown that starts Thursday.
But Love figures to be a key player in the third consecutive NBA Finals between the Warriors and Cavaliers if he can keep his hot hand.
"Just be assertive," Love said. "Picking my spots and just filling in the gaps where we know that LeBron, being our leader, and Kyrie are going to be special."
Love is averaging 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds a game in the Cavaliers' 12-1 playoff run, and had a starring role in downing Boston in the Eastern Conference final.
"He was always in the right spot at the right time," said Warriors guard Stephen Curry. "He showed an ability to obviously catch and shoot really well and consistently."
James has told Love he wants to see "Minnesota Kevin," the playmaker who often had to seize command of games while playing for the Timberwolves.
"He just means being assertive and very confident on both sides of the ball and in my movements," Love said.
"Assertiveness is big, just continuing to have a can-do mindset throughout and confidence in each and everyone of us."
The task of shutting down Love falls to Draymond Green, who says Love "is playing more confident" but plans to throw him off his game and out of his comfort zone.
"Just do what we do -- not give up easy shots, make him take tough shots, and live with the result," Green said. "Everybody's susceptible to (trash talk). I don't care who you are.
"I just try to use my speed to my advantage, take him out of spots where he's comfortable, make him do some things maybe he don't want to do," Green said. "Just got to stay locked in, try to minimize him as much as possible."
Love respects Green as the lynchpin of Golden State's defensive schemes.
"Defensively he sets the tone for them," Love said of Green. "He's one of the best in the game at being a trash talker.
"He's a guy that is making sure that everybody's playing, a very vocal leader for them, and a guy that brings it every single night. So we're going to have to match that."
That could see Cavs big man Tristan Thompson helping to frustrate Green and free Love.
"He's their motor," Thompson said of Green. "He gets them going."
Green took a one-game suspension in last year's NBA Finals after punching James in the groin when the Cleveland star stepped over him.
That ban helped the Cavaliers win game five and start their historic fightback from 3-1 down to win the crown, handing the Warriors a gut-wrenching defeat.
"When you lose to a team, you want to see that team again," Green said. "We're definitely excited about it.
"There are emotions for everyone in this series. Whether I had been suspended or not, I wanted to come into the NBA Finals with high emotions. You don't get here without it."
Green says he took lessons from what happened last year but is not haunted by it.
"I don't really carry it with me," he said. "I'm a firm believer in (stuff) happens. I carry the lessons that I learned with me, but the actual incident, I put that behind me a long time ago."