For Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, getting back from a right calf injury that had limited him to just two games prior to Friday night’s 116-82 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans became more of a mental hurdle than anything.
But when he got back on the floor, albeit for only 10 minutes, he felt like himself again.
“Just playing basketball, that’s what I love to do. It’s so much a part of me,” Love told reporters after the game. “So to have it taken away from me last year and then being super unlucky with the injury, more than anything, it’s just really, really happy to be back out there. Things will progress. I’ll probably take me a couple weeks maybe to feel like myself. But just wanted to get out there and get up and down on the floor more than anything.”
Love admitted that trusting himself became the biggest hurdle to getting back on the court.
“I don’t want to speak hyperbole [or] take it over the top with it, but this is probably the most mentally taxing, not the most physically taxing, but the most mentally taxing for me for sure,” Love said.
Originally slated to be out three to four weeks, Love ended up missing 33 consecutive games because of the injury. Friday was his first time playing since Dec. 27. It was disheartening for Love because he said in training camp that he felt “amazing,” adding that he hadn’t felt that good in years.
Once the injury happened in camp, he quickly learned about the grade levels on strains and the healing process that had to go along with that.
“It was just really mentally frying,” Love said. “I got so f—ing sick of riding the bike and doing the VersaClimber. There’s never been a time in my life where I’ve wanted to run sprints more than like 2-3 weeks ago.
“I came back, I had a great practice. I think it was at the eight-week mark. I had a great practice. The next day, it was like ‘Ahh, I feel a little sore.’ Mentally, I was just like I need to get over this hump. Then it came time to kind of get through the All-Star break. I came back and had a little bit of a breakthrough.
“Now I’m just hoping these next couple of few weeks, I’ll get the wind underneath me. I’ll get to start feeling like myself again and won’t be as sore. A lot of that calf pain has subsided. I’m hoping a lot more of my lift will come back in the meantime.”
Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Love will be an important piece of the puzzle to the team for the rest of the season.
“It’s intriguing the things that you can do for him at that 4-spot and how difficult he can be to guard, the wherewithal to draw the fouls, all those things were there,” Bickerstaff said. “You need to knock the rust off it. You need to get comfortable going back at game speed. But he’s going to be extremely valuable for us going down the stretch.”
Cleveland got another valuable piece back on Friday night with Larry Nance Jr.’s return to the lineup. The versatile forward had 11 points and 4 rebounds in 28 minutes in his first action in more than a month due to a fractured finger in his left hand.
Love played two five-minutes bursts in the first half and did not play in the second half. He finished with four points and one rebound while shooting 1-of-4 from the field, 1-of-3 from 3 and 1-of-2 from the free throw line.
Shooting percentages aside, all that mattered to Love was that he was back playing basketball again.
“It was a lot of time off. Just happy more than anything just to be out there,” Love said. “I could’ve shot 0-for-50 and I would’ve been fine.”