Love scores 6 points in first preseason game
TORONTO (AP) Cleveland forward Kevin Love didn’t have to wait long to test his injured shoulder in his return to action Sunday night.
The first hit came right away.
”First play, actually,” Love said. ”That was a good thing and a bad thing. It’s been tested a number of times in practice, I keep working on the strength. I’m sure there’ll be a few scares here and there but that’s kind of mentally just getting over the hump a little bit. I feel great.”
Love had six points and four rebounds in his first game since the opening round of last season’s playoffs, but the Cavaliers remained winless in the preseason with an 87-81 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
”It’s the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Love said. ”When the regular season starts it’s a whole different grind, but it’s a good starting point, for sure.”
Cleveland coach David Blatt said he was ”extremely pleased” with Love’s 13 minutes.
”I thought he looked great,” Blatt said. ”I’m not surprised. He’s ready to play and we’re happy to have him back, believe me.”
Blatt said Love will start again when the Cavaliers wrap up their preseason schedule at home against Dallas on Monday.
”Tomorrow I assume that I’ll play more,” Love said.
LeBron James and Richard Jefferson (rest) did not play for the Cavaliers (0-6).
Toronto’s Anthony Bennett had 11 points against the team that drafted him.
With forward Tristan Thompson locked in a contract dispute and point guard Kyrie Irving still recovering from a left knee injury suffered in Game 1 of last year’s NBA Finals against Golden State, the Cavaliers are on counting on Love to be a healthy contributor.
”We know how important he is for this team,” Varejao said. ”We know we need him for us to do something special. It was good to see him out there not thinking about anything, just playing basketball, making shots and feeling good about himself and his body.”
Love had six points and two rebounds in a 6 1/2-minute stint in the opening quarter, converting both free throws after he was fouled by Luis Scola, and connecting on two of three jump shots. His only miss was from 3-point range.
”He didn’t shy away from any contact whatsoever,” Blatt said. ”He got shots and we know those are shots he’s going to knock down.”
Love missed all four shots he took in six second-quarter minutes but had two assists, including one where he stole the ball from Jonas Valanciunas and fired a behind-the-back pass to Mo Williams for an open 3. Love headed to the bench at the next stoppage and did not return.
Love’s other assist was also a behind-the-back pass, with Varejao on the receiving end.
”I did not realize that that’s what he added to his repertoire,” Blatt joked. ”Who knows? Maybe he’s deepening his game.”
Traded from Minnesota to Cleveland in a three-team deal in August 2014, Love reached the playoffs for the first time as a professional last spring, but his experience didn’t last long.
The three-time All-Star, who averaged 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in 75 regular-season starts, didn’t play again after injuring his shoulder when Boston’s Kelly Olynyk pulled on it and yanked it from the socket on April 26 as the Cavaliers completed a first-round sweep.
Love had surgery three days later. Olynyk was suspended for the first game this season.
Love opted out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent, but returned to Cleveland by signing a five-year, $113.2 million contract in July.
”I can tell you that physically he is in as good a shape as he’s ever been, and you can see it on him, too,” Blatt said. ”You can see it on his body, you can see it on the way he moves. He really, really worked hard, Kevin, since the time of the injury and since the time of the contract. There’s a lot to be said for a guy that does that.”
Former Blue Jays and Indians slugger Joe Carter attended the game. Fans chanted `Let’s go, Blue Jays!’ after Carter tossed signed mini-basketballs into the crowd during a second-half timeout. Toronto hosts Kansas City in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Monday night.
Cleveland hosts Dallas on Monday night. Toronto plays its final preseason game against Washington on Friday. That game will be played in Montreal. The Raptors also played preseason games in Vancouver and Ottawa.