INDEPENDENCE: After the Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, coach Tyronn Lue took up a collection. His team had just staved off elimination once and Lue believed they’d do it again.
He took $100 from every player, coach, executive, owner and support staff member. By the time he was done, Lue had a bulge worth about $4,500. Then he tucked it into a ceiling tile in the coach’s office in the visiting locker room at Oracle Arena.
“We’re going to come back, get our money and get our trophy for Game 7,” Lue told his players. “Just showing the team I had confidence in what we can do.”
Of course, that’s exactly what happened. The Cavs beat the Warriors in Cleveland in Game 6 and returned to Oracle to claim their cash and the Larry O’Brien trophy. It was a trick Lue learned from his mentor, Doc Rivers, who pulled the same stunt following a particularly embarrassing loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010. Lue was an assistant on Rivers’ staff when the Boston Celtics were hammered at Staples Center on Christmas Day. Rivers took up the collection and told the players they’d get their money back when the Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
It was a bold proclamation that came half true: The Celtics indeed faced the Lakers in the Finals, something Rivers had no way of knowing when he did it in December. But they lost the series — although the players eventually got their money back.
Rivers’ influence remains evident in Lue, who is entering his first full season as coach. He didn’t have much time to implement his system after taking over midway through last season, although he said Tuesday they eventually installed everything. They just didn’t get to use it all until the playoffs.
Lue changed the way the Cavs defended pick-and-rolls in the postseason. They blitzed more, they went under screens instead of over them. Now he has the time to play that way all of the time if he so chooses.
“I just thought last year we couldn’t use the things we worked on every day and they kind of got bored with the process,” Lue said. “Now with a training camp, with a full month ahead of us, we’ve got a chance to put in a lot of things and work on a lot of different things going into the season.”
As for the money trick, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert filmed the whole thing — unbeknownst to Lue. Gilbert surprised him by sending him the footage a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s incentive, at that point, to get back there, and we got back there,” LeBron James said. “We didn’t get our money back, though. I’m still looking for my money. I didn’t get mine back.”
Lue joked that all the important people got their money back. Some of it went toward his $25,000 fine during the Finals for complaining about the officiating.
“Some people got it back. Some people didn’t,” Lue joked. “We charged $100 for a championship for some guys and some guys we gave it back. We got it back to the right people. Some of it went toward my fine, too, so I had to keep players’ money.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ.