Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio have thrived as veterans off the bench for the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers, who moved into fourth place in the Eastern Conference with their 105-94 victory over the Miami Heat on Monday, their fourth consecutive win and eighth in the past 10 games.
But Love produced such an exceptional stat line in the triumph — 23 points, all in the second half, plus nine rebounds — that it begged the question: How did Love accept the reserve assignment from Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff given the youngsters Cleveland usually starts?
“I have trust in J.B. That’s just what it comes down to,” Love said. “I’ve had a great relationship with him since I came into this league, and he was the first coach to really believe in me in this league.
“I listen to J.B. I see eye to eye with him. And for me, it was easy to buy in when I saw how hard these guys work, how they show up to work every single day and just chase the game. I love it. It’s infectious to be around.”
The Cavaliers will look to remain hot when they host the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. Love (11.9 points, 7.2 rebounds) and Rubio (12.8 points, 6.3 assists) have been integral to the Cavaliers’ success as thirtysomethings who remain productive and provide the necessary support for a starting five all under the age of 25.
Love and Rubio both got their NBA start with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and they had similar experiences as rookies three years apart, experiences that play a role in their present approach.
“As rookies, we were both immature and we didn’t really have the vets to put us in the place to have success in this league but also take it on ourselves to take that next step,” Love said. “But I think we’ve grown in the process and I think that’s why we’re able to not only buy in, I think that has come with us allowing ourselves to celebrate each other.
“And that’s everybody in this lineup, everybody in this organization. I think it just comes with experience.”
Like Cleveland, the Rockets have won eight of 10 with their latest victory featuring a bit of a twist from their recently concluded seven-game winning streak.
Whereas the Rockets developed an ability to build leads and hold on in white-knuckle fashion during their streak, they rallied from a 19-point deficit in beating the Atlanta Hawks 132-126 Monday. Houston scored 44 points in the fourth quarter and outscored the Hawks by 19 in the period, as guards Eric Gordon and D.J. Augustin combined for 26 in the fourth.
Critical to the Rockets’ comeback was Houston coach Stephen Silas’ decision to stick with the makeshift lineup that got the Rockets back into contention. Down the stretch, Houston had just two starters in the game, Gordon and forward Jae’Sean Tate, playing alongside reserves KJ Martin, rookie Alperen Sengun and Augustin. The gambit worked.
“I just had a gut feeling to roll with the group that was really playing well and brought the energy,” Silas said.
–Field Level Media
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