Last night’s contest was close, but largely uneventful. It would be optimistic to think the return of Darko, Wes Johnson and Martell Webster propelled us to compete with another contender, however it wouldn’t be realistic. Dirk Nowitzki was saddled with foul trouble and the Mavericks-sans Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler-struggled to score in his absence. Upon his return Dallas opened the fourth with a 15-2 run, en route to a 35 point quarter and three point victory. As for any further details, Nikola Pekovic and Anthony Randolph ate away at Darko’s minutes, Michael Beasley alternately dazed and confused, and Kurt Rambis’ clock management baffled us yet again. You know, the usual. Nothing much to see here.
Except Kevin Love.
With eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, Kevin pivoted at the top of the key and passed to a curling Wayne Ellington. As both defenders attempted to trap Wayne’s drive, Love popped beyond the three point line and readied himself. Square with the basket and coiled with anticipation, he caught and fired in one deft motion while his defender scrambled to recover. It was too late. Just as we’ve come to expect, the ball’s arc and rotation traced through the air with geometric precision before softly settling through the net. The scoreboard lit up, the crowd erupted and Love dutifully trudged back upcourt.
On the ensuing possession, a pump fake from beyond the arc was enough for Love to get Brian Cardinal off his feet. Leaning towards his airborne defender, Love wildly heaved the ball in the general vicinity of the basket. Whistle blown and free throws forthcoming, he gingerly made his way towards center stage. A swollen crowd was still on their feet along with all of his teammates, his employer and even a few of his opponents. They showered him with applause, prompting a meek wave of acknowledgment as he took his place in history. In a hackneyed, yet oddly quaint attempt to encapsulate his workmanlike effort in a sound byte, our PA system blared Rick Ross’ ‘Hustlin‘ for the 13,000 Mid-westerners in attendance. The speakers must’ve been dripping with irony. Bawse, indeed.
And just like that, it was over. Points 10-12 collected on the initial three pointer and 11 rebounds already in hand, Kevin Love secured his 51st consecutive double-double of the season, tying Moses Malone’s post-merger record that stood for 32 years. Next up, Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time record of 227. Pace yourself, buddy.
This streak has been both captivating and frustrating; a high point in franchise history and an embarrassing distraction. We’re guilty of taking his production for granted around these parts, not due to any skepticism or indifference, just….well, tough love. (I know. I’m sorry.) Those of us who’d been paying attention were enthralled with his prodigious rebounding rate long before this season. Those outlet passes were good for the highlight reel and ignited the occasional break, but they were too few and far between to be considered a truly transcendent skill. The questions just sprung to mind too easily. What about his inability to finish in the paint? To play with his back to the basket? To create his own shot? And good Lord, what was he going to do about that defense? However those flaws are exactly what should make his accomplishments that much more astounding.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Karl Malone. Charles Barkley. Hakeem Olajuwon. Shawn Kemp. David Robinson. Patrick Ewing. Shaquille O’Neal. These are just a handful of the otherworldly athletes capable of a double-double over the past 30 years. In fact, all of them have averaged a double-double over the course of a season during their careers. Yet none of them even came close to matching the exploits of a slightly undersized, somewhat overweight, earthbound plodder. It defies explanation. They played more minutes. They played a faster pace. They had more touches. The opportunities were there. Yet still, Love reigns supreme.
How do you stop him? It isn’t as simple as double teaming or denying the ball; the team hardly ever runs a play for him. Hell, Earl Boykins has a higher usage rate. Most of Love’s points come from putbacks, pick n’ pops, or loitering around the perimeter. He simply has a nose for the ball without disrupting the offense; an innate skill that every coach adores. Keeping him off the boards? Even less likely. Love carves out space and anticipates trajectory better than anyone in the league. No one works harder. It looks as though the ball is bouncing right to him, but he just knows exactly where to meet it.
He’s selfless, tireless and fiercely motivated. He has a high IQ and revels in the dirty work. In a word, he’s priceless.
And therein lies the problem: Eventually, we’re going to have to put a price on him. Actually, we may have already done so. But how much is too much for someone who might never be our best play maker or defender? How could we possibly improve? More importantly, who says he actually wants to stay here?
Always with the questions…..