CLEVELAND — Kevin Love made an earlier-than-expected return to the Cavaliers.
The All-Star forward started Thursday night against the Utah Jazz, scoring 10 points to go with nine rebounds in 20 minutes of Cleveland’s 91-83 victory.
Cleveland general manager David Griffin had said Wednesday that Love likely would be back on the Cavs’ upcoming four-game road trip, so his activation Thursday came even earlier than expected.
On Feb. 14, Love underwent arthroscopic surgery to have a loose body removed from his left knee. He was expected to miss six weeks.
The Cavs welcomed back Kevin Love, but before they could get much of a look at how their main pieces would fit together, the injury bug bit again.
“I knew the whole time,” Love said with a smile of his accelerated return date. “I was messing with you guys. No, it was either going to be this weekend or tonight. Once I saw how I was progressing and I didn’t have any hiccups along the way, tonight just felt right. I was happy we decided it was in front of our home crowd. It felt good.”
Love did most of his damage early, scoring eight of his 10 points and grabbing three of his nine rebounds in the nine minutes he played in the first quarter. He watched the fourth quarter from the bench as LeBron James scored 17 of his 33 points in the final frame to lead Cleveland to the win.
“I wanted to be out there in the fourth quarter, but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” Love said. “Guys stepped up and made big plays, ‘Bron was unbelievable and Swish [J.R. Smith] hit some big 3s, guys made good defensive plays and so on and so forth.”
James, who found Love for a longer-than-normal pregame hug before tip-off, gave him his seal of approval afterward.
“It’s just good to have him back on the floor,” James said. “You miss a big part of your team and it’s just great to get him back out there. I know he’s excited about it. But it’s going to take him a few games to get back into the flow of things and we got to be patient as a group. Everybody has got to be patient until he’s back to form. But it was a good first start.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue stuck to a planned minutes restriction for Love.
“He wanted to play more, but of course he couldn’t,” Lue said. “So we just got to keep slowly working him in, and hopefully if he continues to feel better we can start getting him more minutes. But it’s just good to have him back on the floor.”
Love likely will be held out of both ends of back-to-backs for the time being, Lue said before the game.
Cleveland plays the Clippers on Saturday and the Lakers on Sunday.
Cleveland went just 7-6 in the 13 games Love missed. Lue said before the game that his contributions — 20 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game entering Thursday — will be welcome. And not just the stats, but the manner by which Love goes about getting them.
“Well, his defensive rebounding for one,” Lue said of what Love will bring to the Cavs, who were outrebounded 12.0 to 7.2 offensively per game while he was sidelined. “The second thing is, just when we get those leads and we’re getting jump-shot happy, we’re able to throw the ball into the post and slow the game down. Either he’s going to score or get to the free throw line. That’s what was good for us before.
“When LeBron goes out of the game, him and Kyrie [Irving] are kind of working that two-man game. That’s what we missed the most, just slowing the game down, posting the basketball and either him scoring or getting to the free throw line.”
Kyle Korver, meanwhile, missed his fifth straight game Thursday due to a sore left foot. Lue said the veteran shooter is expected back on the court early in the upcoming road trip, which begins Saturday in L.A.