Heat thrive in Game 2 of NBA Finals with Kevin Love back in starting lineup

DENVER — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra blamed himself for not starting Kevin Love in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets.

"I didn't have the foresight (to start him)," Spoelstra said. "I didn't. That's on me."

For Game 2, Love was in the starting lineup. He had six points and 10 rebounds, and Miami outscored Denver by 18 points with Love on the court.

"Clearly, we needed that size and veteran experience and physicality that K-Love brings," Spoelstra said.

Love had started 14 of the 16 playoff games he appeared in through the first three rounds, but Spoelstra moved him to the bench for the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston and the first game of the Nuggets series. He didn’t play at all in those three games.

Miami Heat forward Kevin Love reacts during Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets.
Miami Heat forward Kevin Love reacts during Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets.

"We had to make an adjustment in that Boston series, and that really was necessary and it worked," Spoelstra said of a smaller lineup he used against the Celtics. "Then, we're facing a new opponent that we don't really know, and so we just went with what finished that previous series."

It was a quick turnaround between Game 7 of the East finals and Game 1 of the NBA Finals, so Spoelstra didn't make another lineup change. In the Finals opener, Denver's size overpowered Miami. Spoelstra needed another big in the rotation against the Nuggets' starting five.

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Love, a 15-year veteran that includes a pivotal role in helping Cleveland overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit to win the 2016 NBA championship, understands his role at this point in his career. He knew when Boston went small in the previous round that his role would be reduced. He accepted it with grace.

"I obviously was eager, wanted to play, kept myself ready," Love said, adding, "The beauty of it is you get to reset the deck, figure out what the matchups are going to look like in this series. Again, this is a great group to be a cheerleader for."

Spoelstra reset the starting lineup, and it worked. The Heat are 12-5 when Love plays in the playoffs.

"That veteran experience, the dedicated championship-level experience that K-Love and Kyle (Lowry) both brought tonight, there's not an analytic that can show you how valuable that was," Spoelstra said.

And Love appreciates what Spoelstra brings.

"Coach Spo, having been here and having a storied and decorated career, it’s a beautiful thing to have him on that sideline," Love said. "That trust works both ways with us. ... You look over there during timeouts, halftime, pregame, prep, all that stuff is a 10 out of 10 with our coaching staff and Coach Spo."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Heat thrive in NBA Finals Game 2 with Kevin Love starting vs. Nuggets