Kevin Love's earlier-than-expected return to the Cleveland Cavaliers paid dividends against the Utah Jazz.
Love, who had not played since February 11, logged 20 minutes and came one rebound shy of a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds) to help Cleveland score an important 91-83 win over Utah in his return.
The four-time All-Star was a surprise addition to the starting lineup about an hour before tipoff.
He underwent arthroscopic surgery on February 14 to remove "loose bodies" in his left knee and at the time was given a 6-8 week recovery timeline.
But Love was cleared by team medical staff after participating in drills Tuesday and Wednesday.
Cavaliers general manager David Griffin said earlier this week Love was on track to return during Cleveland's upcoming four-game road trip, which begins Saturday.
Instead, he was able to settle in for a game at Quicken Loans Arena before hitting the road.
Not a moment too soon for the defending NBA champions, who went 7-6 with Love out of the lineup, ceding ground to the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards for the Eastern Conference's top seed.
The Cavaliers, now winners of two in a row, saw both Kyrie Irving (left knee tightness) and Iman Shumpert (sprained left shoulder) exit Thursday's game with injuries, though coach Tyronn Lue said both are "fine" and not expected to miss a game.
Love is in the midst of his best season in Cleveland, averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds before the injury.
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