Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers vindicated, for now

2nd half rotation tweaks, or lack thereof, prove fruitful for Cavs

Jake Chapman
April 23, 2018 - 12:23 am
Cleveland Cavaliers Indiana Pacers Jeff Green Lance Stephenson

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Some questioned the starting lineup. Some questioned the decision to play Tristan Thompson. Some questioned the decision to not play Tristan Thompson in the 2nd half (guilty.) Some questioned the decision to play Jeff Green at all. Ty Lue is surely used to being questioned at this point. And he’s certainly made some decisions that deserve to be questioned. But Sunday night he stuck to his guns in the 2nd half of game 4 in Indianapolis. And his guns shot straight.

Lue’s starting 5 of Jose Calderon, JR Smith, Kyle Korver, LeBron James and Kevin Love hadn’t started a game together all year. They only got 2:18 of game time together in the first quarter before Love drew his second foul and checked out for Thompson, newly re-inserted into the rotation. Thompson played fine, holding the fort down for 7 minutes as the Cavs built a 6-point lead. The bench unit finally broke through in the 2nd quarter, scoring 18 behind 10 points on 4-4 shooting from Jordan Clarkson. The Cavs scored 60 points in the first half and they led by 10 at the break. The rotations felt good. The shots looked good. It was all good. Then the 3rd quarter happened. Again.

Indy came out with a 10-2 run to open the third and Lue called timeout at the 8:51 mark. When we returned from commercial break, to my astonishment, the same 5 players were on the floor. He stuck with his starters, bound to let them play through it or prove once and for all that combo wasn't going to work. Getting definitive answers about a combination of players in the third quarter of a tight playoff game may be unorthodox, but that's how Lue has to do it. That group and Clarkson sprinkled in played the Pacers to a draw the rest of the quarter and the Cavs led by 2 at the end of 3. Korver and Love were a combined 4-16 from the field through three quarters, though Korver had knocked a couple down in the third. Lue went back to his bench guys to start the 4th and they struggled with the exception of Green. He carried the scoring burden early in the quarter and kept the Cavs in the game. By the midway point of the 4th the starters were back on the floor, only with Green in place of Calderon. It was crunch time, and they responded.

Down 2 with 4:28 to go, the Cavs unleashed their own 10-2 run, the weapon of choice on this night. Korver drilled a corner triple on a feed from Love, LeBron and Oladipo traded buckets, then Korver came flying off a high screen and got square with the hoop in a split second, dropping home a second triple and capping an 8-2 run that spanned 79 seconds. James added another layin 30 seconds later and the Cavs had just about done enough to even the series. Nearly everyone played well in the first half. Nearly nobody played well in the third quarter. And the starters exploded down the stretch to pull away. Korver started 0-4 from the field but finished 4-9 and had 18 points. Green finished with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He was a +7 in 24 minutes on the floor, tied with Thompson for the game-high. I do think Thompson should play more in game 5. And I do wonder why the Cavs suck so badly in third quarters. But tonight Ty Lue was vindicated. For 72 hours anyway.