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The man who coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to the only championship in franchise history has not had the easiest of seasons this year.
In the wake of three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers finished fourth in the Eastern Conference this season, along the way going through a a massive in-season roster rebuild, injuries, illness and tragedy.
Coach Tyronn Lue himself, after missing portions or all of three games because of illness, then stepped away from the team for two weeks in order to get his personal health together.
Through it all, Lue stayed true to his beliefs, utilizing different starting lineups, rotations and defensive schemes, though not showing all his cards, choosing to save some of them for the playoffs.
Though he was oft-criticized for many of the moves and decisions, turns out, Lue had the backing of his boss to do exactly as he did.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert told Lue in a text message during the early stages of the season dare to do things differently than the norm.
“Dan Gilbert told me … you’ve gotta try new things,” Lue said, according to Joe Vardon of cleveland.com. “Like, in business you gotta try new things. If it works, you’re a genius, if not, you change and do something else. I just think you gotta try things and kinda see how your team reacts to it.”
In the text message, according to Vardon, Gilbert told Lue: “philosophically, sometimes I think we should NOT be afraid to fail as much as we seem to be.”
The Cavs failed several times during the regular season, at the beginning and again in January, when they were not only beaten, by embarrassed by several teams, including some of the worst teams in the league.
Cleveland finished just ahead of the Indiana Pacers for the fourth seed in the East, then survived a seven-game slugfest with them in the first round to advance.
In the second round, though, all of Lue’s moves and adjustments seemed to click as the Cavaliers swept top-seeded Toronto in four games to each the Eastern Conference Finals for a fourth straight season.
That result marked the third straight season Cleveland knocked Toronto out of the playoffs, the second in a row via a sweep. Dwane Casey of the Raptors, voted Coach of the Year by his peers, was fired Friday.
Meanwhile, Lue has his team one series away from a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals. The 40-year-old has not lost a single game in the second round of the playoffs, let alone a series, and the Cavaliers are 8-3 in the ECF under his leadership.
“Indiana traded Paul George, they said they were going to be last in the East,” Lue said, in praising Pacers coach Nate McMillan. “I thought Nate did a great job. I thought Casey coming into it, being two, three last couple years, but to finish first and have the second-best record in the NBA. That’s big. I thought (Terry) Stotts, what he did in Portland … they had extraordinary seasons.”
None, though, have their respective teams in the NBA’s final four, as Lue does.