ATLANTA – Following shootaround on Friday in preparation for Game 3 against the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue addressed his team regarding the remarks the Hawks made to cleveland.com after Game 2 and he alerted them on what to expect.
“He said with the strong comments they made after that game, you know they’re going to come out here and be physical with us,” James Jones said Friday night. “He told us we couldn’t afford to retaliate if something were to happen. His message was stay the course, stay composed and let’s get this win.”
And that’s what occurred. The Cavaliers went up 3-0 in this best-of-seven semifinals series that was ignited by a steadfast fourth-quarter comeback to capture the 121-108 victory.
The Cavaliers found themselves on the Hawks’ bad side when some Atlanta players felt the pursuit of the three-point record was classless on Wednesday. Paul Millsap said it wasn’t professional, Al Horford said they wouldn’t have done it that way and Kent Bazemore said karma comes around.
Lue’s verbal memo, I’m told, was succinct and hit home. For some Cavaliers, it was the first they had heard about the Hawks’ quotes. Players were puzzled and grew angry, but it motivated them even further, I’m told.
As if this team needed extra motivation.
“Coach Lue’s message was brief and we all took [the Hawks’ comments] as just what it was. It was an excuse,” Dahntay Jones said. “We had a good game and any team can be capable of that and we know that. We knew in our hearts that we did what we were supposed to do.
“We weren’t trying to embarrass anybody. We’re all competing for our jobs. We’re all trying to impress our coaching staff to show them we’re prepared and ready to play.”
Lue’s calm, cool, collected demeanor resonates with this group of guys and reveals itself in crucial junctures. The Cavaliers were down 11 in the third quarter of Game 3 in a deafening Philips Arena. Cleveland made some uncharacteristic mistakes to dig the hole, but was given reassurance of a way out in a soothing, confirming tone.
“He keeps us even keeled,” LeBron James said. “When we come to the bench, no matter if we’re up, we’re down, he just tells us to stay in the moment. Just like tonight, the game did not look good for us at certain points of the game. He just continued to stay on us and say, ‘Let’s worry about the next possession, we’re going to win this game.'”
With 30 seconds remaining in the game with the Cavaliers up nine, James took a hard shove from Jeff Teague while driving to the basket. The 6-8, 260-pound forward was sent crashing into the front-row baseline seats. Teague was clearly frustrated, but the play was uncalled for and more importantly dangerous.
James heeded his coach’s words and didn’t react. He emerged from the crowd and took the court like nothing malicious happened. Teague was accessed a Flagrant 1. James nailed both free throws and then was subbed out of the game.
“I was actually running into two kids and a lady on the baseline,” James said. “Hopefully I didn’t hurt them. I scraped my leg a little bit, but I’m fine. I’m OK. I went back and checked on them to make sure they were OK because I couldn’t really stop. And they were fine once I found out there were fine and I was able to walk off the court. At the end of the day, [the push] doesn’t matter.”
For much of this season the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors were acclaimed as the two supreme teams in the association. A couple a levels below, the Cavaliers resided. Today, there no longer exist a considerable gap. The Cavaliers have hopped on the elevator and are now sharing the same floor as the two aforementioned squads.
Lue’s presence, influence and communication skills have been key to this team’s resurgence. The Cavaliers are a force to be reckoned with. It’s now legitimately a three-team race.
“We’re a team that’s destined for greatness and I really believe that,” James said. “We have a mission and we have another chapter in our goals on Sunday, so we look forward to the challenge.”