Cavs’ improbable title win vindicates Coach Lue


LeBron James won his third NBA championship and third NBA Finals MVP in historic fashion. (TNS)

By Steve Rotstein / Sports Editor

The old saying goes, “There’s no crying in baseball,” but there sure is a lot of it in basketball –– at least when you pull off the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history.

Led by an otherworldly effort from LeBron James in Games 5, 6 and 7, the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Golden State Warriors to deliver Cleveland’s first major pro sports championship since 1964.

Everyone involved was overwhelmed with emotion –– fans, players and even the head coach.

After the final buzzer sounded in the Cavs’ improbable 93-89 victory at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, James –– the unanimous finals MVP –– collapsed at mid-court with his jersey over his face, crying tears of joy.

J.R. Smith embraced his teammates in disbelief, sobbing and yelling, “We champions, man.”

And then the camera cut to Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue, who was still sitting in his chair courtside, face buried in a towel, bawling uncontrollably.

You may not remember ever seeing a professional coach cry, but not many have been in Lue’s situation before either. He joins Paul Westhead in 1980 and the legendary Pat Riley in 1982 and 2006 as the only head coaches to win an NBA title after taking over a team in midseason.

The Cavs fired David Blatt exactly halfway through the regular season and promoted Lue from assistant to head coach. He got off to a slow start, which is expected when a new coach takes over a team and implements a new system. See: Mike Sullivan with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Lue said he wanted the team to play faster to maximize the speed and athleticism of players like James and Kyrie Irving. After a 96-83 loss to the Chicago Bulls in his first game as head coach, Lue made it clear the players weren’t yet conditioned for his style of offense.

“I just don’t think we’re in good enough shape right now to play in the style that we want to play,” Lue told ESPN after the game. “As far as pace-wise and the vision that I have for this team, I think we got to play faster.”

Lue never changed his vision, and Cleveland quickly bought into his system. Soon, the Cavs were running fast breaks up and down the floor and setting NBA records for 3-pointers.

But when they fell behind the Warriors, 2-0, in the best-of-seven series, the doubters and second-guessers re-emerged.

ESPN Radio talk show hosts suggested Cleveland made a mistake by making the switch from Blatt to Lue. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said the Cavs had zero chance of winning the championship.

I cautioned that, despite the two blowouts, it wasn’t over yet –– but I wasn’t about to predict a Cavs comeback either.

When the Warriors won 108-97 on Cleveland’s home court in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead, just about everyone counted the Cavs out. After all, no team had ever come from down 3-1 to win the NBA Finals, and they weren’t facing just any regular team.

The Warriors were the defending NBA champions, having defeated Cleveland 4 games to 2 in the 2015 NBA Finals. And they weren’t your regular defending champs, either.

They started the season 24-0, the best start to a season in NBA history. They finished 73-9, breaking the 1995-1996 Bulls’ record for most wins in the regular season. They had Stephen Curry, the NBA MVP for the second year in a row. And they had tremendous depth, with quality backups and role players at every position.

But Lue still believed, and the Cavs followed his lead. As James told his team before Game 5 at Golden State, “We’ve already got to take a flight home anyway, so we might as well come home with a win.”

The Cavs did just that, beating Golden State 112-97 on its home floor behind 41 points from both James and Irving. In Game 6 in Cleveland, James scored 41 points again to lead the Cavs to a 115-101 win and force an epic Game 7 back in Oakland.

A triple-double from James and a dagger 3-pointer from Irving sealed the 93-89 victory in Game 7 for Cleveland’s first NBA title.

As the tears rained down in Oakland, one thing was certain: The drought is over in Cleveland.

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