Latest posts by Don McCormack (see all)
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Tyronn Lue doesn’t resemble Mickey Goldmill, but his message is very much the same.
The rough-on-the-exterior-but-heart-of-gold trainer for Rocky Balboa, played by the late, great Burgess Meredith, “Mickey” this to say to his pupil before his rematch with undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed, in Rocky II:
As coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lue, and the organization as a whole, did everything they could to make sure Isaiah Thomas was not put on a fast track as he attempted to make his way back from a torn labrum in his right hip.
In fact, Thomas long, arduous, sometimes-frustrating road to recovery resulted in seven months being ripped off his calendar before he finally returned last Tuesday against Portland and then started at point guard for the Cavaliers on Saturday night at Orlando.
And while Thomas remains on a minutes restriction and won’t play in both ends of back-to-backs, for now, there is nothing to slow him down when he’s on the court, which is just what Lue wants, according to Thomas.
“When we were having our talks when I was not playing, he was like, ‘Man, I cannot wait until you get back. We play too slow,'” Thomas said with a big smile on his face after the 131-127 win at Orlando on Saturday night. “So I’m like, ‘We’re definitely not going to have a problem with me pushing the pace.’
“That’s what I am.”
Judging from the numbers the Cavaliers (26-13) have produced, Lue and Thomas were both correct in their assessments. Cleveland posted 127 points in a 127-110 conquest of Portland, the point total being the third-highest mark by the team this season.
The Cavaliers did it even one, er, four, better Saturday against the Magic. The team that’s scoring the fifth-most points in the NBA this season — and doing it almost exclusively while Thomas was on the mend — had its highest-scoring night of the season, to date. With Thomas putting the pedal to the metal, the Cavaliers put a season-high 131 points on the scoreboard.
Playing alongside fellow All-Stars LeBron James and Kevin Love only serves to open up the floor even more for Thomas, a two-time All-Star himself, who while in Boston with the Celtics, was their only dominant scorer. He thrived there, averaging a Eastern Conference-best 28.9 points per game (third-most in the NBA), but he more often than not had to work extremely hard for his points and absorbed a ton of contact along the way, which led to him attempting 8.5 free throws per game on average.
While he has a fondness for free throws — “I love free throws,” he said after the game Saturday night — Thomas certainly appreciates the landscape on which he now operates.
“It’s great, the give me so much space,” Thomas said of James and Love. “Playing with a guy like LeBron, who is very unselfish, when I’m (playing) off the ball, the balls still finds me. And then running the pick-and-roll with him, it’s like, ‘You gotta pick your poison — who (are) you gonna guard.’
“And then Kev, obviously, I’ve played with him when we were younger, so I know a little bit how Kevin plays,” he said. “And he’s just another factor in helping the floor being spaced for me.”
Thomas couldn’t help but smile — again — at the prospect of what the Cavaliers can accomplish with James, Love and himself on the floor at the same time.
“They do a hell of a job in doing what they do,” he said. “And I try to piggyback on them (playing) with this minutes restriction.”
Which is music to Mickey, er.. Lue’s, ears.
“We knew he was capable of doing that,” he said of Thomas. “As long as he’s healthy, that the most important thing.
“That’s why we took our time, went through the process of making sure he’s 100 percent and now all he needs is conditioning and timing and after that, we know he can play.”
And do so with speed… greasy-fast speed.