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Despite their impressive performance in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers can’t be satisfied, according to coach Tyronn Lue.
While the Cavaliers played with a combined sense of urgency and desperation in winning Game 3, 116-86, to cut Boston’s edge in the series to 2-1, Lue said his squad must do it again in Game 4 on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We know what it takes,” Lue said after a team film session Sunday. “We did it before. We’ve got a lot of veterans, a veteran crew and they know what it takes to win. We can’t get satisfied with just one win, it’s just one, we’ve got to come out [Monday] night and duplicate it again.”
Lue was referencing LeBron James, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, the only holdovers from Cleveland’s 2016 NBA championship team, along with Kyle Korver, why played for the Cavs in the Finals against Golden State a year ago, and George Hill, a veteran of the playoffs wars.
To that end, Lue didn’t beat up his team after it looked bad in dropping the first two games of the series in Boston, nor did he gush about the way it performed in the romp Saturday night.
Rather than beat his guys over the head with warnings that they aren’t out of the woods yet, no matter how dominant they looked on Saturday, Lue used the film study to show his players the exact type of effort he wants to see again as the series moves on.
“Just remind them that this is the way we have to play,” Lue explained.
Because of the fine performances of his teammates, James was not forced to use nearly as much energy on the offensive end of the floor, freeing the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player to anchor Cleveland’s defense.
“I thought [Saturday] night was one of LeBron’s best games I’ve seen in a long time as far as helping, closing out to Jaylen Brown’s chest, making him put it on the floor,” Lue said. “Closing out to [Marcus] Morris. Closing out to [Marcus] Smart, so he did a really good job of just setting the tone of multiple efforts and that was good for us.”
While the veterans came through and answered the bell for the Cavaliers in Game 3, so did youngsters Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
The two 25-year-olds, acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 8, are playing in their first playoffs of their careers.
Clarkson, who Lue chose not to play in Game 2 in Boston, made only three buckets in 18 minutes, all being from beyond the 3-point line, but more importantly, showed aggressiveness, getting 11 shots off, only one less than James.
“I don’t think he’s nervous,” Lue said. “He’s not scared or afraid at all. When you take 11 or 12 shots off the bench in the playoffs, you’re not scared, you’re not afraid, so that’s what he does.
“He’s just got to be smart, time and score when to do it, but he’s doing a good job of just trying to be aggressive and attacking and I think he will make shots.”
Clarkson backed his coach’s assessment of showing no fear.
“When I’m on the court, it’s always just basically shooting it with confidence,” Clarkson said. “The more looks I get, I feel like they will go in.”
Nance, who did not play in two of Cleveland’s playoff games because Lue didn’t call his number, responded with 8 points, six boards, three assists and three steals in 21 minutes in Game 3. With Nance shooting 4-of-4 and Korver making 5-of-5, the combined to shoot 9-of-9 off the bench for the Cavs.
“Larry knows his job,” Clarkson said. “He’s going to screen, he’s going to roll, he’s going to get rebounds and he’s going to defend. I think his time is coming in this series.”
Nance is appreciative of the opportunity to get back into the fray and the 6-foot-9, 230-pounder said he won’t waste the chance.
“A series like this, where they play a lot of bigs, they’ll go Morris, [Al] Horford, [Aron] Baynes and [Greg] Monroe, they have a lot of their big guys and they’re super athletic, so if there’s two things that I fit well against, it’s athleticism and playing big,” Nance said. “Hopefully, the coaching staff sees and deems it that I get more minutes.”
The way Lue spoke Sunday, that is certainly not an unrealistic assessment.
“His energy, his athleticism, his ability to switch and guard multiple positions is good for us,” Lue said. “When he’s rolling to the basket, he got a couple dunks last night, and when they pull in to help, now you’ve got Kyle Korver and J.R. making 3s. His athletic ability and his force rolling to the rim is really key for us.”
Nance said he and his teammates are coming to a realization.
“We’re starting to figure out that LeBron doesn’t have to take 20-some shots to beat a great team by 30,” Nance said. “The rest of us are very good basketball players in our own right and it’s nice to show that.”