INDEPENDENCE: With each playoff victory, a clear-the-air meeting following a March 24 road loss to the Brooklyn Nets looks like the turning point in the Cavaliers’ season.

With each team gathering, like watching the Western Conference finals together at Real Sports Bar and Grill in Toronto on May 22, the trade with the Orlando Magic for Channing Frye looks like the move that broke up the team’s cliques and made them more of a family.

Neither can be underestimated as the Cavs open the NBA Finals on Thursday against the Western Conference champion. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors squared off in Game 7 Monday night in Oakland for the right to face the Cavs.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue believes the no-holds-barred session following the Nets loss and before a March 26 victory over the New York Knicks was especially valuable in Kevin Love finding his place on the team. But the deal for Frye on Feb. 18 also proved crucial, both in providing a breath of fresh air and securing the final piece for what has become in the playoffs a highly effective second unit.

When he was elevated after General Manager David Griffin fired coach David Blatt on Jan. 22, Lue made it one of his goals to change the culture. Asked Monday after practice at the Cleveland Clinic Courts when he thought that happened, Lue pointed to the post-Nets meeting.

“The Big Three sitting down and getting on the same page of understanding what they need from each other on a nightly basis and understanding that they have to trust each other and also trust the team,” Lue said. “We had that talk in front of everyone and everyone kind of gave their opinion and talked about what they expected and what we needed to do better. I think from that day on, we kind of took off and we became a better team.”

The session might have been confrontational. The conversations might have continued past the original sit-down.

In Lue’s mind, Love benefited most.

“Talking to him in front of everyone and letting him know, ‘Be aggressive. Look to score. You’re one of the top 10 players in this league. Demand the basketball and be aggressive.’

“Once we had that meeting, I think the team understood what we needed from each other to win, if we wanted to win. And I give them credit. They bought into it and you’ve seen the results of it.”

The following game against the Knicks, Love scored 28 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. From that point, Love averaged 18.9 points and 8.3 rebounds in his final nine games of the regular season, his scoring up from his season-ending 16.0 average.

In 12 postseason games, Love has boosted his numbers to 17.3 points and a team-high 9.6 rebounds.

Richard Jefferson said that loss to the lowly Nets was one of several clunkers the Cavs turned in during the regular season. He said “a lot of things were building up” before the team’s New York talk. The example he used was a 115-92 victory at Oklahoma City on Feb. 21 followed by a 96-88 home loss to the Detroit Pistons the next night.

“There was no reason for some of those losses that we had this year, where you could see it coming,” Jefferson said. “We would go and get a very, very good win and we would follow it up with just laying an egg. We still won — How many games did we win? — 57 games. But we felt personally that we should have been in the mid-60 range if we’d been locked in. Even with the injuries to [Kyrie Irving] and [Iman Shumpert] and the coaching change, we still felt like we should have been a mid-60s team. There were quite a few losses there that stung and probably hurt us more than people recognized.”

Frye was around for a few of those, including the clunker against the Pistons. Jefferson said his long-time friend Frye helped Lue change the culture.

“Yeah, because Channing’s that new kid in school that doesn’t know that there’s cliques and he just sits at the table with everyone,” Jefferson said.

Recently Jefferson said Frye started a text chain with LeBron James, Love, Jefferson and James Jones.

“You’re just like, ‘Why did you….?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t know, you guys are the ones I wanted to talk to,’” Jefferson said of Frye. “All of a sudden the four of us are texting through a game. These are little things that Channing [brings], his personality and how happy he is to be here. He doesn’t care about any of this stuff on the outside. He just laughs and jokes and has a good time and is really enjoying this experience.”

Lue said he’s drawn on the model of Doc Rivers, his former boss with the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, to achieve his goal of better Cavs’ team harmony and fewer losses to overmatched opponents.

Lue believes the culture has come a long way. But he said there have been daily reminders from the coaching staff, who “harp about accountability, being professional, doing things the right way.”

To set the Cavs on the right path to the Finals and perhaps a championship, it took what might have been a volatile 24 hours in New York. And a new 33-year-old teammate who thinks nothing of sitting down at the cool kids’ table.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com.