Kevin Love of Cleveland Cavaliers says Serge Ibaka gives Toronto Raptors ‘whole different look’


INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The Cavaliers will host the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of their second-round series on Monday in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, but Cleveland’s opponent won’t be so familiar, according to Kevin Love.

The complexion of the series will be similar to the six-game bout the Cavs won in May 2016, with Cleveland led by its three All-Stars in Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and Toronto led by its All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Love, though, said Saturday that the addition of Serge Ibaka changes things for Toronto.

“Just a different dynamic,” Love said of Ibaka, whom the Raptors acquired from the Orlando Magic in February. “Definitely shooters with both him and [Patrick] Patterson out there. He brings a ton of energy. Played really well in Round 1, so he just gives them a whole different look and a guy who has a ton of playoff experience coming from Oklahoma City. Obviously getting traded from Orlando, but all his playoff experience being there and playing in a lot of big games. He really helps them.”

Ibaka averaged 12.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 2.3 blocks in the Raptors’ first-round series victory over Milwaukee. A 6-foot-10, 235-pound stretch big, he also made 1.2 3-pointers per game against the Bucks.

Cleveland went 3-1 in the regular season against Toronto, but none of those games featured Ibaka. The Cavs won the first three meetings by a total of 11 points before Ibaka joined Toronto. He was on the Raptors when they beat Cleveland 98-83 in the teams’ regular-season finale, but he was held out of that game to rest, as were the Cavs’ three stars.

Ibaka was on the Oklahoma City Thunder team that James and the Miami Heat defeated in the 2012 NBA Finals.

“Adds a veteran, for one, a guy that has experience, Finals experience as well,” James said this week when asked about Ibaka. “And also a guy who can stretch the floor and create, also protect the rim at times. It definitely helped them out, was a good piece for them.”

James also mentioned P.J. Tucker, a 6-foot-5, bruising small forward who was acquired by the Raptors from the Phoenix Suns for Jared Sullinger and two second-round draft picks at the trade deadline. Although his impact was not as statistically significant as Ibaka’s in the first round — he averaged just 3.0 points on 25 percent shooting, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game — the Cavs are preparing for his physicality and aggressive approach to the game.

Cleveland thinks so highly of Tucker, in fact, that Cavs general manager David Griffin was engaged in extensive trade talks with Phoenix counterpart Ryan McDonough this season in attempts to acquire him, multiple league sources said.

The Raptors also will benefit from a healthy Jonas Valanciunas, their center who missed the first four games of last year’s conference finals with an injured right ankle, and the emergence of guard Norman Powell as a bench contributor.

Last year’s series against the Raptors was a tough one for Love. He was benched in the fourth quarter of losses in Game 3 and Game 4 as Toronto knotted the series 2-2. Things turned around for him in Game 5, however, as he pumped in 25 points in 24 minutes, going 8-for-10 from the field as the Cavs swayed the series back in their favor.

“I played poorly in Game 4 and came back home and bounced back and had a good game,” Love said Saturday when asked about that critical juncture of the 2016 playoffs. “It being the postseason, obviously it holds a little bit more weight. This team has been resilient, persevered through a lot of stuff, and for me that was a moment like that.”

Love, who averaged 15.5 points on 41.5 percent shooting and 9.3 rebounds in the first round against Indiana, would appreciate a similar bounce back in his game, at least offensively, as the Cavs open up the second round.

“I didn’t shoot it necessarily well in Game 3 or 4, really,” Love said of the Pacers series. “But overall, I thought it went well. Got the sweep, and more than anything, we have a lot of bright spots for our team, even in Game 3, when we had to fight back from 25 down at half, that a number of guys played well throughout, and we hope that continues.”