Cleveland Cavaliers fans have been waiting for the real Kevin Love to stand up for the past two years. Last night, it's fair to say, they finally got their wish.
Thanks to a record-breaking first quarter in a 137-125 win over the Portland Trail Blazers last night, the power forward stamped his mark as a Cavs player once and for all.
K.Love caught fire in the opening quarter and dropped 34 points, which is the second-most points in a quarter in NBA history and the most in a quarter by a Cavaliers player.
It was also the most points in a first quarter ever in the league and was just three points shy of tying Klay Thompson's record of 37.
Love ended the game with 40 points, his highest points total with the Cavs since joining from the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2014.
He was 11-of-14 from the field and 8-of-10 from beyond the arc. Confidence was oozing through the big man and the atmosphere in the Quicken Loans Arena was electric as he knocked down shot after shot.
You could sense that this was a turning point in the 28-year-old's career with the Wine and Gold, but for those who have watched the team regularly this year, it may not have come as a huge surprise.
The three-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 21.8 points per game and after helping the franchise secure its first championship last season, he is finally playing with freedom and less pressure which has culminated in his improved numbers.
There is no doubt that head coach Tyronn Lue deserves much of the credit for giving Love the belief and confidence to get back to his old self and play his best basketball in Cleveland.
In an exchange with the player during the latter stages of the regular season last year, Lue used some choice words to motivate Love and get him more involved in the team's offence.
"I said, ‘Kevin, you got to be more aggressive. Tell LeBron, I’m a bad m—–f—– too, so throw me the ball.’ Be aggressive. Run the floor. If you’re open, we got to throw you the ball. You got to demand the basketball and I said, ‘Score the ball and be aggressive,'” Lue said, per ESPN.
Under previous head coach David Blatt, Love was just another player and was often just standing on the perimeter, constantly being overlooked for shots.
One of the best low-post players in the league had become merely a catch and shoot player and was hardly in the paint.
"I was way out there," Love told Cleveland.com after his historic game, gesturing his right arm to illustrate being cast out of the lane by former coach David Blatt.
Since taking over, Lue has had made it a priority to get the UCLA product back to his best and to utilise his multiple skills.
Post-game, Lue revealed that Cleveland runs a play for Love to start each and every game, something the player never experienced with Blatt.
"He's a great player already. I didn't do anything magical," Lue said. "He's just, he's playing great, he's being aggressive when he catches the ball in the post, getting to the free throw line, a big post threat for us."
Last night at the Q, it felt like a weight had been lifted off the shoulders of K.Love. Sure, it was just a regular season game in November, but the performance meant a bit more for a player who has been scrutinised during his entire spell in Ohio.
Trade rumours, injuries, chemistry issues, you name it, he's had to deal with it. So who can begrudge him for enjoying the moment.
"It's definitely fun," Love said. "Especially when you see after the fact, for me, the reactions of my teammates. It was a lot of fun. We got in here after the game and they were congratulating me. I didn't realise that was the most points for a first quarter or how close I was to the record for a quarter in general. It's definitely a lot of fun."
J.R. Smith's insistence on talking about Love during a half-time interview spoke volumes for how he's regarded in the locker room and how happy his teammates were for him.
Smith began his on-court interview by excitedly saying, “Please tell me we about to talk about Kev! Please tell me we about to talk about Kev!”
For a few days at least, everybody in Cleveland will be talking about Kev.