INDEPENDENCE: The look on Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue’s face rarely gives much away unless a situation is especially over the top one way or another.
Questionable foul? The same look. Scoring run by the opposing team? Same look. Even in the midst of last year’s NBA Finals, Lue didn’t unpack any emotions until the championship trophy was in his team’s clutches.
That’s what LeBron James appreciates about Lue, and his coach said Sunday it’s just who he is.
“I’ve always been that way. Never get high, never get low, just stay even-keeled. I always get mad when guys make shots in the first quarter, second quarter, pumping their chest and then the game on the line they miss,” he said. “So you’re doing all that for no reason. I always like to stay even-keeled and just play the game the right way.”
James could have chosen a myriad of descriptors for his coach’s leadership style, but one was obvious.
“I just think it’s just his level of calmness no matter what’s going on,” James said. “He always talks about, at the end of the day, he’s already won in life so whatever else happens after this is extra credit.”
James, whose story from poverty to prominence is well known, said he can relate to that personality trait of his coach.
“I’ve already done so much more than anybody ever gave me credit of doing or thought I can do, so there’s no reason to get too high or too low,” he said. “So it’s the even-keel mentality about our coach, and it definitely helps us as players when we’re going out into a war.”
That demeanor spills into other aspects of his position. After the Cavs clinched the NBA’s Eastern Conference title against the Boston Celtics, Lue ducked out of the trophy presentation as soon as possible.
“It’s not like when I say [to] the media I don’t like you guys,” Lue said. “I just don’t like the attention and everything it brings. But you know, I love the team, I love our team, I love being here in Cleveland, great support, great fans. It comes with the territory. I’m getting better, starting to loosen up a little bit.”
He may not want to loosen up too much. James said Lue’s never-too-high, never-too-low attitude ultimately benefits the team.
“Throughout the postseason there’s so many different emotions going high, going low and for players and things of that nature, and if you’re a coach able to just [stay] even-keeled throughout the whole thing it relaxes the rest of the group,” James said.
Against the Celtics, forward Kevin Love spent time playing with the Cavs’ smaller lineup. Lue was asked if that was in preparation for the Warriors, who played small in a lot of instances in previous finals and over the course of the season.
“I just wanted to get him accustomed to what we do with that second unit, going small, having him at the five,” Lue said. “I thought we needed another post presence. I thought in that second unit if LeBron gets tired or things are not going well, we can at least slow it down and post Kevin.”
Against the Celtics, it served other purposes.
“Our rebounding was hurting us a little bit with the second unit,” Lue said. “Getting Kevin out there on the floor with that second unit to rebound, give us a post presence, another passer when we’re try to run stuff for ’Bron, to get him easy layups and baskets. It was good for us in the last series.”
The most interesting storyline in this NBA Finals could come from the Golden State Warriors bench. Mike Brown — the two-time former coach of the Cavs — is the team’s acting head coach with Steve Kerr out with complications from a previous back surgery.
James said he isn’t expecting a big drop-off.
“Steve is there. He’s just not on the bench. He’s there,” James said. “Mike Brown has enough talent and enough experience to keep it going. So, when you have a system in place and you have that caliber of talent, things [are] going to still go right.
James, however, understands what Brown brings to the Warriors as a coach.
“Well, their defense is extremely good already,” James said. “And you add Mike Brown, who obviously I played for for a few years — he’s damn good defensively, so it definitely helps that out a lot.”
James is rarely ever willing to look to the past or beyond the present, but with seven consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, no one could blame him for doing so.
“I think it’s going to be great for my legacy, once I’m done playing the game and can look back on the game and say, ‘Oh, this guy went to three straight Finals, four straight Finals, five, six whatever,” he said. “I think it’s great to be talked about, see what I was able to accomplish as an individual, when you talk about longevity and being able to just play at a high level for a long period of time.”
James also was able to parse his Finals trips in a different way. While many are aware of his current Finals streak, some have forgotten he went to the championship series once before with the Cavs under the guidance of Brown.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that and be a part of two franchises that ... being able to take two franchises to four Finals apiece,” he said.
And, no, no one else has achieved that.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.