Tyronn Lue had the best seat in the house Tuesday night, as he watched the Cavaliers give away a 20-point lead and fall to the Rockets, 106-100.
The Cavs notched just 16 fourth-quarter points, content to dribble out the shot clock and hurl errant jumpers at the rim. All the while, Lue seemed equally content to just observe. More on the head coach and the Cavs’ disastrous second half offense below:
1. Other than making LeBron James and some other Cavs happy, getting rid of former head coach David Blatt and replacing him with Lue has been a wash, at best. I didn’t understand the firing but it was justified by general manager David Griffin thusly: “Pretty good isn’t good enough.”
2. The Cavs are still pretty good. But if Blatt was nothing more than a casual bystander whose team won in spite of him, there’s little reason to suggest Lue is any different. Tuesday night’s game is proof, as he trotted out a lineup of Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellevadova, Channing Frye, Tristan Thompson and Richard Jefferson to begin the fourth quarter. Even with James resting, that lineup at that juncture made little sense.
3. Shockingly, those five gave up a 7-0 run to trim a double-digit lead to six. Lue then spent the rest of the game watching the Cavs self-destruct on offense. For almost the entire quarter, I waited for a Kevin Love post touch, just to try and get a high-percentage look or a foul. It never came.
4. That’s coaching. Or really, the absence of coaching. Is this a reactionary take? Sure it is, but even with a longer and more measured view, I don’t see any sign that this team wins because of Lue. Maybe there’s more joy and “connectedness,” two things that apparently did not exist under Blatt’s supposedly incompetent reign.
5. But what’s abundantly clear, if it wasn’t already, is that this team’s fortunes truly and entirely lie in the hands of James. That’s not an earth-shattering statement, until you consider that it relegates Kyrie Irving and Love to strong role players at best and light baggage for James to lug forward at worst.
6. It also relegates Lue to the realm of inconsequential. If you see any reason to believe he will help engineer big wins in the postseason, I am all ears and have no problem being proven wrong. I suppose you could point to all the plays that he has installed for Love at the elbow but … oh, wait. That’s not to say the Cavs can’t go deep into the playoffs or even win a title — they can. But if they do, I simply don’t think Lue will have much to do with it, just like I’ve been told Blatt had little to do with the Cavs’ run to the Finals last season. No double standards.
7. After the Cavs’ loss to Brooklyn a few games ago, I absolved Lue of blame. I meant it. But this game against the Rockets was a great opportunity for him to really coach a win. With James resting and the Rockets making a push in the second half, Lue had an opportunity to put his stamp on the game. He didn’t. The most memorable coaching moment of the evening was James standing near mid court and appearing to coach literally right over Lue’s head.
8. OK, deep breath, moving past Lue (kind of). I thought Mo Williams played a solid six minutes in the first half, making both his shots and looking spry. Then, of course, he never left the bench in the second half.
9. James Jones also stepped up in the first half with 10 points. Then he, too, suffered the same DNP-CD fate as Mo in the second half.
9. Irving was great from long-range, hitting 5-of-9. But he was just 4-of-14 from inside the arc. Love, too, had a poor shooting night making 5-of-14 shots. Neither totally shrank from the task of having to play without James, but neither stepped up and took control of the game in the fourth quarter as it slipped away, either. While I think Lue was a no-show tonight from the bench, Love and Irving had the opportunity to pull out a win and didn’t do it.
10. Timofey Mozgov had a terrible night. He was whistled for five fouls in only nine minutes and found himself pinned deep under the bucket by Dwight Howard on most Rocket possessions.
11. A final thought on Howard, since I’m in the arrow-slinging mode: At one point in the first half, he appeared to blow a kiss to a fan while preparing to assault the rim with another free-throw attempt. Howard was miserable from the stripe all night, finishing 7-of-22. But there he was, clowning around and focused on something other than shooting a respectable looking foul shot. To me, it was his career in a microcosm — just a shade more goofball than dominant.