INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Channing Frye was one of just two Cleveland Cavaliers who spoke to the media Wednesday morning after shootaround, so reporters weren’t going to let him get away quickly. That didn’t go over so well with the other guy who spoke, LeBron James, who interrupted one of Frye’s responses by urging him to wrap things up.
“C’mon, man, we’ve got work to do,” James said from behind the cluster of reporters, part teasing, part serious from the tone of it.
“Listen, man, they’re asking me questions,” Frye said, chuckling. “This is my one shining moment.”
And strictly speaking, it was, given Frye’s low participation rate through the first two games of The 2016 Finals. Whether out of need or out of desperation, with the Cavaliers down 2-0 in the best-of-seven championship series, that will change tonight at Quicken Loans Arena (9 ET, ABC).
Kevin Love, Cleveland’s starting small forward, was ruled out for Game 3 on Wednesday afternoon after it was learned he was not medically cleared to play. Love got hit in the back of the head by an errant elbow from Golden State’s Harrison Barnes in the second quarter of Game 2 Sunday in Oakland, and exited in the third quarter. Earlier in the day, a Cavs spokesman said Love had participated in “a portion” of the shootaround.
With Love unable to play in Game 3, Frye is one of coach Tyronn Lue‘s options to see more court time.
Through two games, Frye has played only 11 minutes total, missing his only two shots and making a pair of free throws. Compare that Frye’s work through the first three rounds of the playoffs: 15.7 minutes per game, 8.6 ppg and 2.9 rpg, while shooting 62.1 percent overall and 57.8 on 3-pointers.
Given Love’s spotty play (29.1 mpg, 11.0 ppg, 8.0 ppg, 37.5 percent shooting), Frye might seem like an option for longer looks even if Love had been available. But Golden State’s preference for “small ball” has kept the 6-foot-11 Frye — who doesn’t play as “big” as his size would suggest, yet doesn’t have great foot speed when the game goes “small” — on the side. The same goes for center Timofey Mozgov, the 7-foot-1 big man who played a big role in last season’s push to The Finals but has averaged just 6.5 minutes while sitting out six of Cleveland’s 16 postseason games this time.
That’s what Golden State’s pesky, mobile, mid-sized tactics can do to bigs.
“You see when I step past half-court, those guys are always an arm’s reach away from me,” Frye said. “Sometimes it’s not about the stats and I think a lot of people dwell on that. The minutes I get in there, I try to do the best I can with what I got. Again, I’ve just got to worry about that and not look at it like — it’s not a pity party — I’m not like ‘Why am I not playing?’ I’ve just got to say, ‘Hey, when I do get my minutes, I’ve got to go out there and do better and see if I can get things going faster.’ ”
Frye, acquired at the trade deadline, has been a valuable addition to Cleveland’s mix both on and off the floor. He led the Cavs with 27 points in 28 minutes off the bench in a Game 3 win in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Meanwhile, his veteran perspective and sense of humor have been welcome over the past three-plus months.
So far this series, though, his contributions have been limited to the latter stuff.
“When I came here, I understood we’re a very deep team,” Frye said. “Different matchups work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Coach is trying to figure out the lineup that’s going to work the best. Obviously they play small and they really aren’t playing their centers. Then the next guy comes in and he’s about 6-6.
“I’m here to help the team win,” Frye added. “If that’s getting five minutes, I have to bust my ass for five minutes.”
James spoke before Frye and generally talked about the Cavs needing to be better on both sides of the ball, being more aggressive and otherwise not pulling back the curtain on any strategic or mental adjustments.
Asked about his team’s approach about Love before he was ruled out for Game 3, James simply said: “Next man up.”
Maybe that man will be Frye, maybe it won’t. He’s due for a better shining moment than he got Wednesday morning.