August 2, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Paul George scores 36 points, Clippers hot behind arc in Lue’s return to Cleveland

As soon as the Kansas women’s basketball team finished its practice Wednesday night in Waco, Texas, a Jayhawks assistant named Terry Nooner went looking for the broadcast of the night’s Cavaliers-Clippers game.

In some ways, it was a matchup he had been looking forward to for two and a half years, ever since the night he and a small group of friends spent hours at Tyronn Lue’s suburban Cleveland home attempting to process Lue’s firing as the Cavaliers’ coach. Lue had overseen three NBA Finals appearances and the city’s first championship in 52 years, but a rebuilding season had begun 0-6, and the staff learned Lue was out on the morning of Oct. 28, 2018.

“Kind of a shock,” said Nooner, a high school teammate of Lue’s who, only weeks earlier, had been hired as a Cavaliers player development coach. “There were so many people there who had a lot of love for him. The day that he got let go, I seen grown men that were crying in the office. Guys, we don’t cry in front of each other, especially grown men — but literally, in tears.”

Nooner recalled the night as “surreal.” There was confusion, but also little despair — because those who know Lue long enough probably have heard his unofficial motto.

“It always turns out good for ol’ Lue,” Nooner said, laughing. “No matter what happens in his career, stuff always ends up working out great for him, all the time.”

What Nooner watched unfold over the next few hours of the broadcast proved that point again.

Playing their sixth game away from Los Angeles in nine nights, and just 24 hours after losing an intense matchup in Brooklyn, Lue’s Clippers finished their trip with a 121-99 victory against the upstart Cavaliers that belied any road fatigue.

After leading by 12 within the game’s first eight minutes, only to have their offense make three of their next 20 shots en route to trailing by four before halftime, the Clippers won the second half by 19 points, coolly pulling away behind Paul George’s 36 points and Kawhi Leonard’s 24.

The Clippers (17-6) finished with 20 three-pointers, only the sixth time in franchise history they have made at least that many. It offset their 16 turnovers, and the 18 points it led to for Cleveland (10-12), one of the league’s best at forcing such mistakes.

“They made a run, we kept our composure, and I thought in that third quarte we really established our defense and took off from there,” Lue said.

When Lue entered Rocket Mortgage Arena before tipoff, it was not his first time in the building since his firing, having been on the Clippers’ staff last season when a February trip brought the team through Ohio. But this time, as he greeted arena security and said hello to his former coworkers, he was four months into a job that has seen him leave his imprint on one of the league’s best teams.

“I thought that he would be there for a long, long time,” Nooner said of Cleveland. “The fact that he’s not there and then that he’s coaching the Clippers is just crazy how that whole thing has turned.”

So much has happened for Lue since his firing in Cleveland that he said it felt much longer than two and a half years. He came close to taking the Lakers’ job in 2019. He worked as a Clippers assistant, earned his promotion and is now managing a team amid the chaos of an unpredictable season.

The Cavaliers have moved on, as well. Under J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland’s second coach since Lue, the Cavaliers have turned into one of the league’s biggest surprises this season, powered by a feisty young backcourt. Lue praised Bickerstaff’s progress before tipoff, and the improvement he’d seen from third-year guard Collin Sexton, whom he has known since high school and briefly coached.

Still, Lue said his connection with Cleveland would endure.

“Winning a championship with our team the way we did in 2016, the first for the franchise, you would think and hope that when you come back, it’s always love and support,” he said. “So getting older and going forward with my life, we’ll see how that turns out.”