Home US SportsNBA ‘He is the star’ — How Ty Lue has changed the Clippers narrative, one comeback at a time

‘He is the star’ — How Ty Lue has changed the Clippers narrative, one comeback at a time

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NOT LONG AFTER Tyronn Lue had been doused with chilly water by his staff after matching the second-largest NBA comeback since 1996, his cellphone was ringing.

On the opposite finish, Lue heard a well-known, distinct and drawn voice.

“So you just going to keep getting down 25, come back and win, huh?” Lue says in his finest Kawhi Leonard impression.

Lue has been irritated that the LA Clippers repeatedly dig themselves into huge holes this season. However as Reggie Jackson joked at halftime not lengthy after they fell behind by 35 factors in Washington on Jan. 25: the Clippers had the Wizards proper the place they needed them.

For a lot of their existence, the Clippers have lengthy been the punchline. However since final postseason, they’ve developed a cussed behavior of pulling off inconceivable comebacks — none larger deficit-wise than erasing that 35-point deficit to stun the Wizards 116-115 — solely trailing Utah Jazz‘s 36-point come-from-behind win over the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 27, 1996.

As Luke Kennard scored seven factors within the last 9 seconds, Nic Batum could not course of what was taking place. Batum stood along with his palms over his head and his mouth agape after Kennard buried a 3 whereas being fouled for a go-ahead four-point play with 1.9 seconds left. That put the ending touches on a shocker that noticed the Clippers dig themselves out of a 66-31 first-half gap.

“That’s one of those moments in the NBA, you have to be in it,” Batum says. “I was like a fan. No, for real, I was a fan for the last 15 seconds. I wasn’t playing, like everybody else in the stands.”

Certain, there are nights like Friday after they fall behind by 41 and lose by 29 to Utah. However simply two postseasons in the past, the Clippers could not maintain on to double-digit leads in a 3-1 collection meltdown towards Denver within the second spherical enjoying within the bubble. Since then, they’ve overcome a close to 0-3 gap towards Dallas earlier than winning in seven games and surprised Utah by erasing a 25-point deficit with out Leonard in Recreation 6 to advance to the franchise’s first Western Convention finals.

Previous to this season, no staff prior to now 25 years had erased a deficit of 24-plus factors and received thrice in a single season. And the Clippers did it thrice over an eight-game stretch, gorgeous the Nuggets, the Philadelphia 76ers and Wizards throughout that span. Over the previous two seasons, the Clippers lead the league in comeback wins after trailing by 20 or extra with 5 victories, 4 of which got here this season.

Their largest comeback, although, is sort of full. The Clippers entered the season with out Leonard, who’s recovering from an ACL harm, and have been with out Paul George (torn elbow ligament) since Dec. 22. They misplaced newly acquired Norman Powell (broken bone in foot) after solely three February video games. That’s normally a dying sentence for a staff’s playoff hopes and but the Clippers turned a season to neglect into one which they’ve already made historical past and are on observe to achieve the play-in event because the No. 8 seed.

A variety of this resiliency​​ has to do with the person many within the group contemplate to be the staff’s third star — Lue.

However Jackson is fast to right.

“He is the star.”


FOURTEEN DAYS BEFORE their unbelievable comeback in D.C., the Clippers trailed 59-34 with over 19 minutes left of their sport towards the Nuggets on Jan. 11.

As has typically been the case with out George and Leonard, the Clippers have been struggling to attain and looking out like they have been on their approach to one other powerful loss by the hands of reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.

However every time the Clippers fall behind huge, Lue begins their comebacks by determining the perfect mixture of gamers who will defend and exploit an opponent’s weak point. Whereas he depends on a few of his vets, Lue has typically succeeded with younger unproven gamers similar to two-way ahead Amir Coffey, who performs the whole second half.

Lue additionally employs a tactic that helped the Clippers thrive each offensively and defensively final postseason — he goes small, a dangerous transfer towards the likes of Jokic. The Clippers flip up the defensive strain and pressure 10 second-half turnovers whereas conserving the Nuggets from getting the ball to Jokic, who finishes with 21 factors, 13 rebounds and eight assists, however simply six factors on seven photographs within the fourth quarter of an 87-85 Clippers’ win.

Former Cavaliers ahead Richard Jefferson says Lue’s basketball acumen and his capacity to counter what an opponent is doing on the fly is on the identical degree as LeBron James‘ good mind. The previous Cleveland coach, although, is just not solely exhibiting what he can do with out James, but in addition managing with out his two Clippers superstars this season.

Regardless of profitable a championship and serving to information the Cavs to the best comeback in NBA Finals historical past by erasing a 3-1 deficit to beat Golden State in 2016, Lue does not get loads of credit score for the title that many as an alternative will bear in mind as James prepared a championship to Cleveland.

Lue is fast to name James “the best player in the world” who made him a greater coach. However as Miami‘s Erik Spoelstra is aware of, it might take a very long time for a coach to emerge from James’ shadow.

“LeBron’s been in the league, what, 18 years?” Lue says. “He won four championships. So that don’t mean you’re automatically going to win because you have LeBron James. So I do coach with a chip on my shoulder because, like people say, ‘Oh, he can’t do it without LeBron. He can’t …'”

Lue had a possibility to reunite with James when the Lakers interviewed him for the teaching job in 2019. However the Lakers supplied Lue a three-year deal value $18 million, far beneath the five-year, $35-million deal he had with the Cavs, and needed to dictate Lue’s employees. Lue pulled out of negotiations and the Lakers employed Frank Vogel.

“The Lakers [saw it] more so as like [I’m just] coming to coach LeBron,” Lue stated. “No, I’m coming to win. I just didn’t think I was treated fairly. And I wasn’t just going to accept any offer just to get a job.

“I simply thought I used to be higher than that.”

While the Lakers have played far below their championship expectations despite having multiple future Hall of Famers, Lue has the Clippers ahead of his L.A. rivals despite playing six regulars who are 25 or younger and have yet to make an All-Star appearance.

“The job I have been in a position to do with the staff now, like, Spo was the identical manner in Miami,” Lue says of emerging out of James’ shadow. “It is also made me need to be higher as a result of not having LeBron, now I received to indicate folks that I do know my stuff. Like I can actually coach. And I nonetheless received to get rather a lot higher.

“But I just want to prove to people that I can coach.”


WHETHER HE IS enjoying a card sport of Bourre on the staff aircraft or throwing cube at a packed craps desk in Las Vegas, Lue’s mind is calculating all of the eventualities, learning his opponent’s tendencies, figuring out weaknesses and adjusting to search out any approach to win.

“In the middle of all that chaos is Ty at his best,” says Clippers assistant coach Brian Shaw, who has identified Lue for the reason that two have been teammates with the Lakers in 1999. “He’s better than the [craps table] dealers and the pit bosses who are adding and subtracting what they should be paying out. … A lot of times, a number will hit and you can see the dealer back there trying to calculate what it is that they’re supposed to pay him. He’ll be like, ‘$350 on that one, $750 on that one.’

“It is actually unbelievable to look at. That is how his thoughts works.”

During a February two-game stand in Dallas, Lue had his poker face on. In the first game against the team the Clippers have eliminated in the past two first-round meetings, Lue stayed too long with Ivica Zubac switching onto Luka Doncic, who scored a career-high 51 points in a Mavericks’ win. Doncic scored 28 points in the first quarter, drilling seven 3-pointers, many of them step-backs over Zubac like during their first-round matchup last postseason. In 59 half-court matchups between those two, Doncic has 74.6 points per 100 matchups against Zubac, highest against any defensive player this season (minimum 20 matchups) per Second Spectrum.

While Lue admitted he should have adjusted earlier, the Clippers coach also had a defiant tone explaining his strategy.

Lue was ready for his next hand against the Mavericks.

“A variety of occasions whenever you’re enjoying playing cards, you are enjoying a participant,” Lue said, explaining how coaching can be similar to playing cards. “If he is a decent participant, a free participant, if he bluffs. In basketball, you are enjoying a coach. Like what he does, what his tendencies are. Is he switching one via 5? Does he blitz?”

In the rematch two nights later, Lue starts his 7-foot big on Doncic. The bold strategy is to catch the Mavericks by surprise and not allow them to run their offense seeking out mismatches and playing off those actions.

Doncic turns back to look at coach Jason Kidd after seeing Zubac served up to him. The scheme might’ve relaxed the Mavs star too much as Doncic scored 22 points in the first three quarters before scoring 23 in the fourth and finishing with 45 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.

Lue’s gamble just pays off as the Clippers escape with a 99-97 win and the Mavs get a two-game taste again of Lue’s chess moves.

“Psychological warfare,” is how a Mavericks supply described Lue’s Zubac tactic.


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The Clippers go on a remarkable run to come back from being down 25 points and somehow beat the Nuggets in Los Angeles.

IT’S NOT EVEN the midway point of the third quarter and the Clippers are down more than 20 points to an MVP candidate big man again for the second time in 10 days. Despite feeding Joel Embiid a steady diet of double teams, the Sixers star center is feasting on the Clippers on his way to 40 points and 13 rebounds as Philadelphia opens a 68-44 lead with 7:39 remaining in the third on Jan. 21.

Lue remains calm. And no matter how big the deficit, Clippers players tell each other they are still in the game even if it actually sounds ridiculous to them.

“[Even when] we’re down 35, we’re coming to the timeout and guys are like, ‘Oh, yeah. We’re nonetheless in it,'” Jackson says.

“We’re not pondering we received to return again. We’re pondering, ‘Let’s simply reduce it to the 30.'”

With an unheralded small lineup that consists of Kennard, Eric Bledsoe, Terance Mann, rookie Brandon Boston Jr. and backup middle Isaiah Hartenstein, the Clippers reduce the Sixers’ 24-point lead all the way down to 4 earlier than Lue ultimately turns again to his veteran starters. Embiid scores 11 however solely two different Sixers rating within the fourth of a 102-101 loss to the Clippers, forcing Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ outdated coach, to should reply –and snap at — at a postgame query about how a lot teaching needed to do with the Sixers’ collapse.

Seeing Rivers was a reminder to the Clippers of simply how a lot had modified in 16 months. They spent all of final season decided to bury the bubble.

The Clippers needed nothing to do with the bubble. There was nowhere to go, no escape from one another or their opponents. George admitted to falling right into a state of melancholy. And Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley all left and returned to the bubble for private causes, fracturing their already difficult staff chemistry.

“Off the court was damn near hell,” Jackson says of the isolation of the bubble.

When confronted with a Nuggets staff that did not give up having overcome a 3-1 collection deficit within the first spherical towards Utah, the Clippers folded, blowing leads of 16, 19 and 12 factors of their final three losses of the collection.

“We only lost that s— because we were in the bubble,” Marcus Morris Sr. says. “[If] we weren’t in the bubble, we’d beat the s— out of them. Put that on the record. … Guys are out of their comfort zone. Kudos to Denver.”

Leonard stated after the fiasco that he needed to see increased basketball IQ and extra resolve when issues start to unravel. Gamers have lauded Lue’s changes and sport plans, nicknaming him “Belichick” whereas singling out his capacity to speak and empower them to take extra possession. He holds them accountable like when he confronted the staff in a gathering final season that Jackson stated turned the yr round.

“He said, ‘I got my contract. It’s on you guys. Do you want to play? If not, s–, let me go home and we’ll figure out next year,'” Jackson recollects. “‘I want to coach but it all depends on if you want to play. That’s on you.'”

Lue’s message sunk in and Jackson says the Clippers “skyrocketed” of their run to the Western Convention finals.

This season, Lue held one other pivotal staff assembly. The Clippers had misplaced six of eight after George was dominated out indefinitely. After dropping three straight, Lue met along with his staff earlier than a walk-through previous to dealing with Atlanta on Jan. 9.

Following the assembly, Lue simplified the offense, let his gamers play freer and the Clippers received six of their subsequent 10 video games, together with the comebacks towards Denver, Philadelphia and Washington.

“That really changed our season,” Lue advised ESPN. “[Told the team] we can’t fall into feeling sorry for ourselves. Don’t nobody [outside] care that Kawhi and PG’s hurt.

“Whenever you construct a system round your finest two gamers, loads of stuff we won’t run anymore. I had to have a look at the mirror myself and simply work out what’s finest for this staff.

“I had to go back to the drawing board.”


WHILE LUE SPENT a few of his All-Star break pondering of latest wrinkles he might set up, Leonard was in Cleveland. In a navy blue blazer that each one the legends are carrying at a photograph shoot of the NBA’s 76 biggest gamers, Leonard meets greats similar to Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and is requested how he’s doing.

“Oh yeah, I’m feeling a lot better,” Leonard says. “I’m trying to get back out there, man.”

The Clippers had simply acquired Powell and Robert Covington, two extra wings, earlier than the commerce deadline. The concept of what Powell can do with Leonard and George had Lue envisioning a attainable five-man unit of all interchangeable wings who can swap defensively.

Leonard, George, Powell, Batum and Morris. Possibly even Covington, who might be a free agent this summer time. The potential defensively is sufficient to make Clippers dream in regards to the “silly” — as Batum put it — combos subsequent season, when the Clippers are anticipated to be preseason title favorites with a wholesome Leonard, George and the addition of Powell.

“All the time,” Lue says when requested how a lot he thinks a few wholesome Clippers roster. “We’ll get to that point where we’ll be able to play that way [small, switching and interchangeable] and we’ll be a dangerous team.”

Since taking up for Rivers, Lue hasn’t been in a position to play the way in which he envisions for an extended stretch. The Mavs and the Jazz received somewhat style of what Lue needs to do when the Clippers went small within the playoffs earlier than Leonard tore his ACL in Recreation 4 of the second spherical.

For now, the Clippers are exhibiting Leonard and George the probabilities of what they may have round them after they return — one not possible comeback at a time.

“They call [Lue] a lot of times, right after the game,” Shaw stated of Leonard and George. “And they’ll be like, ‘Ty, you a bad mother.’ They see what we’re working with and how competitive.”

“For PG and Kawhi, it just strengthens their belief in him and reinforces how good of a coach he is. I think it makes them go, ‘Man, if he can get this out of this team with us not being here, I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when we’re back at full strength and healthy.'”

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