2018 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love still in concussion protocol, status unclear for Game 1

Love missed Wednesday's media day, but many expect the Cavs' forward to be ready for opener of NBA Finals

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

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OAKLAND, Calif. – Out of sight, out of mind. And mouths, apparently.

That’s how it was for Cleveland forward Kevin Love Wednesday. Love did not participate in the 2018 Finals “media day” interview availability at Oracle Arena because he remains in the NBA’s concussion protocol. He wasn’t even the topic of much conversation.

That’s probably a good thing for the Cavaliers, with so many people in and around the league presuming Love will be cleared and available for Game 1.

The alternative wouldn’t be as upbeat, suggesting Love either misses the championship series opener (9 p.m. ET, ABC) or plays but has little impact in his return to Cleveland’s rotation. But from the chatter around Oracle Arena Wednesday, that seemed a distinctly minority view.

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Love got hurt early in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals when he and Boston’s Jayson Tatum collided and banged heads. Tatum was jarred but stayed in the game and was fine for Game 7. Love, on the other hand, fell to the floor, missed the rest of Game 6 and still hadn’t cleared the league’s concussion protocol standards in time to play in the clincher Sunday.

I hope so. I’m still not sure. He’s going to go do some things today and see how he feels. But he is in the [concussion] protocol still, so we’ll see how he feels.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, on Kevin Love’s status for Game 1

Three days later, the doctors hadn’t signed off on the 29-year-old even playing questions and answer with reporters from around the globe. Which has nothing to do with his actual status to be back in the Cavaliers’ rotation.

Of the 20 Cleveland or Golden State players whose interviews were transcribed and posted in full or part on an NBA.com media site, only one, Stephen Curry, made even a passing reference to the 6-foot-10, five-time All-Star. “We’ll see if Kevin Love is healthy or not,” Curry said.

That’s it. Otherwise, it was left to Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue to offer the latest on Love as of Wednesday afternoon.

Asked if he hoped Love would play in Game 1, Lue said: “I hope so. I’m still not sure. He’s going to go do some things today and see how he feels. But he is in the protocol still, so we’ll see how he feels.”

To exit the concussion protocol, a player must be free of symptoms of the head trauma, must be evaluated by a physician and must play a series of physical exertion and agility drills. Only then, after a consultation of team medical staff with the NBA’s director of the program, the final call gets made by the team physician.

Those hurdles matter and, clearly, are beyond any ambition or grittiness on Love’s part. That’s part of this situation too: Love has dealt with and been waylaid by a variety of injuries through the years, with some critics making assumptions about his desire or toughness.

Love averaged 13.9 points and 10.0 rebounds in Cleveland’s first three rounds this postseason, while making just 38.8 percent of his shots. A year ago in The Finals, he averaged 16.0 points and 11.2 rebounds and shot 38.7 percent from 3-point range.

Considering Kyrie Irving’s absence now — the point guard chipped in 29.4 points per game in the 2017 Finals — Love’s role as a secondary scorer to James and a rebounder for Cleveland looms large.

Then again, he averaged just 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in the 2016 Finals, ranking fifth behind James (29.7), Irving (27.1), J.R. Smith (10.6) and Tristan Thompson (10.3) among Cavs scorers. He even missed Game 3 of that series with a concussion. But Cleveland beat Golden State in seven games for the title, becoming the first Finals team to overcome a 1-3 deficit.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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