Cold, hard truth from Tyronn Lue sets the Clippers free against Lakers
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue screams from the bench in the season opener against the Lakers on Tuesday at the Staples Center. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
Tyronn Lue learned one of the most important lessons of his NBA life from then Lakers teammate Brian Shaw early in his 11-year career.
The 6-foot lue was a late first round draft pick from Nebraska and wouldn't give the Lakers 20 points every night. He wouldn't even be on the rotation every night. But for accountability he could tell the truth as he saw it every night, even if it meant inviting temporary anger from the bigger names on the roster.
"To be able to tell these guys the truth when they probably never hear it much," Lue said. "And they respect you for it."
That's why, more than two decades later, during his first training camp as the Clippers coach that month, Lue was telling the truth to his team. The 43-year-old coach has few hobbies outside of basketball. In his view, his job was to work daily to find the best system to accommodate the roster talents. However, the Clippers could only maximize their potential if the focus of the players was equally steadfast.
"I tell them every day, I don't want it to be a thing that we do it for two weeks and then we come back the next week and we have to talk about how we have to do it harder." Lue said in a phone interview last week. "We should do this every day."
The intent behind the news was brought home when an opening season win of 116-109 against the Lakers was played on Tuesday, with the Clippers exorcising some of their post-season demons.
A lead by Clippers that had grown to 22 points in the first half turned into a 75-point tie with five minutes of play in the third quarter. Instead of buckling like in the playoffs, when double-digit leads were lost in all three defeats in the second round, the Clippers pushed back forcefully. Her answer was underlined by the crime of Paul George, whose 33 points after a post-season ups and downs represented a minimum of personal redemption.
For a franchise that was just outside the humiliation season, it was the ideal answer for the opening night. But it will quickly lose its luster if the good habits of victory, from execution on the square to communication, are not maintained.
"We still have a lot to do to keep building better," said Lue. "It will be a process."
Tuesday was the first stress test of this process and was significant. After shooting a total of 70% and 50% with three pointers in the first quarter, the Clippers made seven of their 25 shots in the second quarter. Twelve sales in the first half of the year resulted in 15 Lakers points. As the Lakers made shots, the Clippers' ability to run in transition dwindled, forcing the Clippers to work harder for their points.
The Clippers were leading by two at halftime. After LeBron James and Anthony Davis had already won their championship rings in a pregame ceremony, they now went to the top.
Lakers forward LeBron James is defended by Clippers Center Ivica Zubac. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
"We're playing a great team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the other side of basketball. They're going to take a run at some point," said Lue. "You just have to endure it."
In the second half, the Clippers made four turnovers and George scored 10 direct points to end the third quarter. He scored 26 in the last half.
Kawhi Leonard, who scored 26 points on 26 shots, said even if the Clippers had lost, he would still have felt like they had made progress based on what he saw during the team's regression in the second quarter.
"I just appreciate that everyone stays locked in and focused, just being positive and holding their heads up," said Leonard. “When we saw the lead wear off, we talked to each other, tried to figure out what was going on, and came out in the second half and played good basketball. … I'm proud of that, not of missed or taken recordings. "
In the postseason, Clippers teammates occasionally argued during a break. When it was over in September, Leonard said he wanted the front office to improve the roster’s "basketball IQ". Tuesday was a first opportunity to measure the new roster’s ability to resolve issues on the fly, a process that relies on open communication, Lue said.
"We don't want to be a front-running team. When things go well, we cheer each other," said Lue. "If things go bad, we'll do the same."
When the Clippers' lead shook and the similarities to last season's coda became eerie, Lue was telling his team the truth at half time. George had to be more aggressive on the offensive. Their casual mistakes and the resulting sales had to stop. The opportunity to win was there when they were ready to work for it.
"When things are not going well, you need this positive review," said Leonard. “That will make the guys either play better, or if they communicate wrongly on the floor or miss readings on both ends, it would help if everyone came up and said something. It's game 1, we want to build on it and have the same energy night after night. We're not there yet, there is a long season ahead of us. "
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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