Miami Heat forward Kevin Love had not played for nearly two weeks, a healthy scratch for four straight games as he was benched in favor of forward Haywood Highsmith in the starting five. But with both Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro out on Saturday against Atlanta, coach Erik Spoelstra dusted Love off and stuck him into the game for 14 minutes of an improbable shorthanded win.
Love made the most of his time, shooting 2-for-4 from the field and grabbing four rebounds with two assists. He made a 3-pointer on four attempts, and was a plus-10 when he was on the floor. But it was something revealing that Spoelstra said about Love after the game that really stuck out.
He is not happy about having to keep Love on the bench. So unhappy, he said, it made him sick to have to do it.
“He was fantastic with his leadership, spirit but also his talent,” Spoelstra said. “That veteran experience. With Tyler and Jimmy out, that changes the equation. And this may be a game-to-game thing, but I just know in my gut that we need Kevin Love. I mentioned that, when I made a different move, it really turned my stomach because I know how important he is to our team in a lot of different things.”
Miami Heat’s Kevin Love Struggles to Guard Forwards
Certainly, Kevin Love has made an impact on the Heat in his short time in Miami. He was acquired last March after he was waived by the Cavaliers and was a part of the Heat’s run to the NBA Finals, as he averaged 6.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20 playoff games, including 18 starts. Importantly, he shot 37.5% from the 3-point line, providing the Heat with the deep-shooting spacing they badly needed.
In the offseason he was signed to a $3.1 million deal to stay with the Heat. He did not entertain other offers from teams, and the Heat left no doubt that they wanted to keep Love around.
But Spoelstra’s problem has been that playing Love at the power forward spot next to Bam Adebayo in the middle gives Miami two big men in the middle who are not very well equipped to guard smaller, more athletic power forwards. Highsmith, who is 6-foot-7, is hardly a prototypical power forward but can guard the likes of Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the many other athletic high-scoring forwards of the Eastern Conference.
Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro Out
With no Jimmy Butler and no Tyler Herro, though, the Heat were without 41.3 points worth of offense, so Spoelstra was less concerned with how the defense would look. It was going to take some scoring to beat Atlanta and star guard Trae Young.
That meant it was time for Kevin Love. The Miami Heat were led by the star performance from Adebayo, who had 26 points and 17 rebounds as he continues to put up MVP-type numbers. But they needed role players to get the win, their fourth straight.
“We needed that kind of spacing with a lot of firepower out, the offense needed to be able to create and he does that really well,” Spoelstra said. “He’s such a smart, experienced, skilled player that he helps the whole unit work. So those 16 minutes were really important.”