Cleveland Cavaliers: The 0-2 hole in the ECF isn’t Ty Lue’s fault

Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Cavaliers have dug themselves into an 0-2 hole against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it’s not Ty Lue’s fault

The Cleveland Cavaliers suffered a second-straight double digit loss to the Boston Celtics (107-94) on Tuesday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the TD Garden. The Celtics now lead the series 2-0. 

Cleveland actually held a seven-point lead at halftime but (per usual) were absolutely run off the court in the third quarter.

As the game slipped out of hand, and it became apparent that a comeback was more of a Hail Mary than a reality, Cavs fans seemed to lay the blame directly at the feet of head coach Tyronn Lue. That’s not necessarily where it belongs, though.

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I want to blame Lue, too. It’s always so easy for fans to blame a coach for the struggles of their favorite team. Changing a coach is quite easy (too easy, probably) in professional sports, and blaming the coach often seems like a better outcome than blaming the players. I’m not going to come out and say that Tyronn Lue is John Wooden (due purely to the epic post-halftime collapses,) but I think the Cavs fans are taking the easy way out by calling for his head.

Let’s take a step back and try to count the number of good defensive players on the Cavs roster. I gave this a shot, I’m stuck at zero.

Maybe LeBron James for a few possessions a game?

George Hill in theory?

Tristan Thompson?

Cedi Osman?

We’re talking about average defenders at best at this point in their careers.

Now let’s count the number of offensive threats that the Celtics have. I’ve got at least five (their entire starting lineup). We’re talking about five guys who can all win off the dribble and make 3-pointers at a decent clip. I don’t think that can be said about the Pacers or Raptors, and maybe not about any other team besides Golden State (not even Houston because of Clint Capela.) This presents a massive issue for a Cleveland team who can’t stay in front of anybody, and doesn’t even count Marcus Smart. 

Countless times in both games a Celtic blew right by their defender and headed to the rack. As the Cavs also don’t have a solid rim protector on the roster, the entire defense must collapse down to try to stop the drive. This either happens too late (and the player gets a lay-up), or it happens just right (and the Celtics get a wide-open 3).

When all five players on the C’s can drive and shoot, and no Cavalier is good enough defensively to stop either, what are they going to do? Coach Lue can come up with a scheme, sure, but there isn’t a scheme out there to hide five defensive mismatches at once. This isn’t Indiana, where trapping Victor Oladipo just over half court seemed to work a bit, or Toronto, where everyone hoped their bad shooters would continue to hoist.

Other than “Why is Coach Lue’s defensive strategy so bad?!,” the other thing I read a lot is: “Why does Coach Lue keep playing ‘X’ so much?!” Here is the list of players that come up in these complaints:  

  • Jordan Clarkson
  • Rodney Hood
  • Jeff Green
  • J.R. Smith

In a playoff series when teams usually trim their rotations down to eight or so, that is half the team (not including the fact that folks have said the same bad things about Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, and Larry Nance Jr., at times during this postseason. At any rate, here are Lue’s alternatives for guys who can play on the wing: 

  • Cedi Osman
  • Jose Calderon
  • Kendrick Perkins (kidding, although at this point, why not?)

Maybe, just maybe, I’d like to see a little more of Osman, but he’s definitely not going to save the season. He’s a rookie who doesn’t give you a ton on offense, and he’s not exactly Ron Artest reincarnated (and pre-name change,) in terms of perimeter defense. 

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So what then are we blaming Lue for?

It is unrealistic to expect him to turn five poor matchups into a defensive juggernaut. It is perhaps even more unrealistic to expect him to just “Play somebody else, fool!!!,” when there quite possibly isn’t anybody else. The Boston Celtics are unfortunately a bad matchup for the Cleveland Cavaliers, plain and simple.