With just .7 seconds on the shot clock, and the Cavs inbounding from a difficult angle while clinging to a 95-90 fourth quarter lead, rookie coach Tyronn Lue asked for a 20-second timeout. It seemed like a bit of a stretch to use one in the situation. Would the Cavs really be able to draw something up for a good look with that amount of time on the clock?
Fast forward about 120 seconds of real time, and LeBron James and Kevin Love were joining Kyrie Irving for a full-on celebration at midcourt. Late in the fourth quarter, an eight point lead, and the Cavs on the verge of a 3-0 advantage over the Detroit Pistons.
LeBron could not possibly be more excited than this https://t.co/KiFVUW5RLW— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) April 23, 2016
This is a basketball team that fired its coach in late January for playing without joy. A team that was comfortably leading the Eastern Conference, but had more trouble having fun. In 2015, the answer was bowling. In 2016, it was saying good bye to David Blatt. Tyronn Lue stepped into the fore, and many dismissed his coaching chops. Never mind the fact that he was the NBA's highest paid assistant, had the respect of LeBron James, and had been put on every list of up and coming coaches you could imagine.
The critics had every right to feel vindicated as Lue reluctantly, belatedly, started to utilize Channing Frye. The critics had every right to feel vindicated as the Cavs defense regressed after David Blatt's firing. And the critics had every right to feel vindicated as the lineups and rotations moved around and shuffled and lacked consistency. But Lue is proving to have perhaps the two most important traits an NBA coach can have: flexibility and the support of his players.
When LeBron James was told that Lue said he thinks it's the best he's played alongside Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving: "I agree with whatever Coach Lue says."
And when Kyrie Irving is asked about the dagger that will be replayed on SportsCenter over and over and over, he immediately credits "T.Lue". And on down the line. Fairly or not, Cavs players always hesitated to give David Blatt credit for, well, really anything. The disconnect was real, even if the results were still good. With Lue, the players go out of their way to single him out, and never in negative fashion.
Of course, none of this helps the Cavaliers' championship aspirations if Lue isn't also putting his players in a position to succeed. Lue has used LeBron James for big minutes, yes, but he's also making sure that he plays James when Andre Drummond sits. This has allowed the Cavs to make up ground, or extend leads in the first three games of the postseason. It's also kept Matthew Dellavedova from having to operate without one of James or Irving.
He's added Frye to the rotation and taken Timofey Mozgov out. He's gone to Love at center after the Cavs coaching staff had expressed skepticism over such lineups. In Game 3, he trusted Tristan Thompson to play alongside Love late in the game and he was rewarded for it. He's using a bit more Richard Jefferson than is probably prudent, but the Cavs lack great options on the wing for bench units. If the Cavs want to play small, that might just be inevitable.
It's easy to poke at coaches, who make tons of small decisions that can have big impacts. In Game 3, he used a timeout and drew up a play that found Kyrie Irving flaring out for a three off an incredible crosscourt pass from Matthew Dellavedova. Irving had .7 seconds, and it was more than enough. The ball didn't hit touch anything but the net, and the Pistons comeback chances were essentially derailed.
LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the Cavs celebrated. Lue is holding his own and making a positive difference, and that might be the story of the series.