Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love played with force on Wednesday night. (John Kuntz, cleveland.com)
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love didn't play in the fourth quarter again.
Only this time it had nothing to do with his performance. The Cavs didn't need him to finish the game. It was effectively over early in the third, when Love exited at the 7:09 mark to a loud, well-deserved ovation with the Cavs ahead by 35.
They cruised to a Game 5 win, 116-78, getting one victory away from a second straight trip to the NBA Finals. Love was the offensive catalyst, helping set the tone as the Cavs played with a renewed sense of urgency.
A day after his chat with head coach Tyronn Lue -- one that stemmed from Love getting benched for Channing Frye during the fourth quarter of back-to-back games in Toronto because of ineffectiveness, stepping on a ref's foot, shooting struggles (5-of-23) and Frye's stellar play -- Love came out aggressive.
Taking advantage of the slower Luis Scola, Love forcefully attacked the basket before drifting out to the 3-point line as the game progressed.
"If you miss 10, 11 shots, so what," Lue said of his message to Love following the Game 4 loss. "Those are your shots, you're open, and you've got to take them with confidence. Like I said, Kevin is human. He's had a great postseason. He's missed some shots, but there are other things that he can do -- rebounding, playing defense and things like that. I'm not really too discouraged about Kevin missing shots. He has to just keep taking them."
Love did. In the first quarter, he scored a team-high 12 points on 4-of-4 from the field, including 2-of-2 from 3-point range, helping the Cavs get off to a great start and taking away any positive feelings the Raptors had after back-to-back wins in Toronto to even the series.
Much like the Cavs, Love didn't slow down. The versatile forward made his first six shots before his initial miss came on an uncontested baseline dunk attempt. That was a rare blunder on a night the Cavs morphed back into an offensive juggernaut after being held under 100 points in two straight games -- the first time this postseason.
Love finished with a game-high 25 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in one of his finest performances of the postseason.
But it wasn't just Love's offense. He was an integral piece of Cleveland's smothering defense that held the flummoxed Raptors to a postseason-low 78 points on 27-of-69 (39.1 percent) shooting.
The Cavs altered their strategy following Game 4, electing to trap All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, forcing the ball out of their hands. Love's activity, combined with relentless effort from the rest of the Cavs, forced Lowry into five turnovers. The Cavs forced 19 on the night, which led to 30 points, and helped ignite the offense.
It was a tough few days north of the border for Love. He looked hesitant and uncomfortable, which led to plenty of criticism.
Lue was asked if he was worried about Love's struggles. Questions popped up again about whether Love could regain his early-postseason form and still be a difference-maker in this series.
Some even wondered if his spot in the crunch time lineup was secure.
In pivotal Game 5, Love provided a resounding answer.