Ranking all of Cavs’ Kevin Love’s games against MIN, his former team

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports)
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Kevin Love (#0) and Cedi Osman (#16), Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports) /

With 1:05 left in the first quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ 123-106 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, Kevin Love set a screen for Ricky Rubio on the left wing.

After a Darius Garland UCLA cut on the other side and a Karl-Anthony Towns/Malik Beasley blitz on Rubio, Love popped for an easy pass and the first of his three 3-pointers in the game. It would form part of an 18-point, 13-rebound performance in 23 minutes.

If you squinted hard enough (or are just a perpetually-tormented Wolves fan), you may have been transported back to a Minnesota basketball era of excitement and expectation. Despite significant injuries in their first two seasons together, Love and Rubio would lead a young and improving Timberwolves team to a 40-42 record in 2014 amongst the thickets of a Western Conference so dominant that even the 48-34 Phoenix Suns missed out on the playoffs.

The duo would come to an end after Love was traded that offseason however and while Rubio has gone on to play for three more teams (including a return to Minnesota last season), Love has remained a Cavalier since joining LeBron James in his 2014 Cleveland homecoming.

Love, who has mostly struggled since signing a four-year, $120 million extension in 2018 (and James’ departure), appears to be re-engaged this season in a bench role. In 19 games, he is averaging 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in 20 minutes per game while shooting 38 percent from three. Per NBA.com, the Cavaliers are plus-5.3 with Love on the floor while sporting their fastest pace and highest rebound percentage (includes players with 100 or more minutes of action this season).

Since losing five straight in late November, Love’s performance against the Wolves helped the Cavaliers punctuate a 6-2 response in their last eight games following that, prior to Saturday’s W over the Sacramento Kings, but the Friday game had me thinking.

Was Love’s performance against his old team part of the momentum of this Cavalier team or was there some good, old fashioned revenge involved? After all, Love’s time with the Wolves wasn’t perfect – issues with benchings, teammates, contract negotiations and the front office didn’t exactly endear him to a franchise starved of success.

The only way to discover any elements of revenge would be to go back and look at all of Love’s games against the Timberwolves since 2014-15. While I was there, I wanted to see how Friday’s effort ranked in comparison. In an attempt to answer these questions I decided on testing each game against a metric called “Game Score.” Developed by John Hollinger, a former NBA executive and now a writer for The Athletic, Game Score attempts to encapsulate a player’s overall performance in a single game based on box score data. You can find further detail here but below is the formula:

PTS + 0.4 * FG – 0.7 * FGA – 0.4*(FTA – FT) + 0.7 * ORB + 0.3 * DRB + STL + 0.7 * AST + 0.7 * BLK – 0.4 * PF – TOV

In short: efficient scoring, rebounds, steals, assists and blocks are good; fouls, turnovers and missed shots are bad. A quick aside and shameless plug – I also used Game Score to rank the best Cavs rookie debuts of all time which you can read here.

With all of that out of the way, let’s get to it! Kevin Love’s seven performances against his former team ranked!

* Through Friday’s games