I’ll admit it – I’ve been quite a prisoner of the moment during this latest postseason for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The wins have made me think this team can make a serious run at the championship, the losses have me penning goodbye letters to LeBron James.
Another reaction to every Cavs playoff loss is heavy criticism of head coach Tyronn Lue. While I don’t want to have last night’s series-evening win against the Boston Celtics send me to the opposite end of the spectrum, I do think it’s time we all ease up on the doubt we’re casting towards Cleveland’s coach.
Again, I don’t want to defend Lue solely because he’s got his team back on track after it fell into an 0-2 hole against Boston. Should the Cavs lose Game 5 tomorrow night, I’d fully expect the below image to surface once again on Cleveland Twitter.
Make no mistake – Lue has indeed made a few questionable decisions this postseason. His attempts at forming a consistent rotation were messy at best during the opening round. Even as recently as last night, Lue has been guilty of putting an extremely ill-fitting lineup out on the court. Additionally, his initial decision to keep giving Rodney Hood minutes after the guard coupled woeful play with a refusal to check-in during garbage time was clearly a miss on his part.
However, focusing only on Lue’s mishaps – which we’re all guilty of doing during particularly ugly Cavs losses – results in our ignoring the things he’s been doing right this postseason.
It’s clear Cleveland has been a completely different team ever since Lue made the decision to increase his reliance on the team veterans.
Earlier in the playoffs, Lue was still trying to make things work with the trade deadline additions – Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Hood. The latter started Game 1 of the first round, while the other two played heavy minutes. This resulted in incredibly sloppy basketball, as none of them looked ready for the playoffs.
As soon as Lue began relying less on these three and more on vets like J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, the Cavs began to get their act together. While it’s been paying off ever since, it certainly wasn’t an easy decision for Cleveland’s coach to make.
For one, the influx of youth at the trade deadline was supposed to be something the Cavs leaned on come playoff time. This was in part because Smith and Thompson had basically been written off late in the year, with the latter barely touching the court until the seventh game of the first round.
Lue deserves just as much credit for how he’s been utilizing Thompson during the Eastern Conference Finals.
After watching Celtics center Al Horford dominate the Cavs in Game 1, Lue inserted Thompson back into the starting lineup. The move has proven successful, as Horford has yet to look as effective as he did in the opening game. After a 20-point effort on 80% shooting in Game 1, Horford’s shooting percentage has been cut in half over the next three contests. Essentially, Lue’s call to start Thompson has made one of Boston’s best players a non-factor.
Lue is still catching flack for the lineups he’s occasionally putting on the court, which I understand. At the same time, his options are far more limited than what we’re making them out to be.
James and Kevin Love can’t play the entire 48 minutes every night. Likewise, thanks to some ineffective play from Hood and Clarkson, Lue must rely more heavily on players like Jeff Green than we’d like. We’re basically skewering his decisions in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.
When considering this, and keeping in mind the successful moves Lue has been making during the playoffs, you can see how it might be time to pull back on our criticism.
Again, it’s far easier to commend Lue the day after a playoff win. The angry tweets will return with a vengeance the next time Cleveland loses. Unfortunately, this comes with the territory when coaching a team with championship expectations featuring a global superstar approaching free agency.
However, when looking at the big picture, you can see how most of the negative feedback is undue. Though Cleveland’s postseason has been rocky at times, the team has been able navigate through the stormy waters and find itself two wins away from another Finals appearance.
It might be time to start giving Lue his fair share of credit for this.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook