Cleveland Cavaliers Are Starting to Thrive Under New Coach Tyronn Lue

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterFebruary 1, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 23: Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers talk to his team prior to the game against the Chicago Bulls during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on January 23, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

CLEVELAND — When the Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach David Blatt on Jan. 22, negative reactions spread like wildfire among his colleagues.

Less than two weeks later, few can argue with the results.

New head coach Tyronn Lue has seemingly transformed the Cavs in just five games, emphasizing ball movement, a faster pace and a desire to have fun again. The early returns have been promising, as Cleveland has won four in a row, including a 117-103 beatdown of the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.

At the time, it may have seemed asinine to fire Blatt, who was just months removed from an appearance in the NBA Finals, owned the best record in the Eastern Conference and had been on the job for just a year-and-a-half—but it has jump-started the Cavaliers as they try to join the NBA's elite.

Player Response

The general consensus is that Lue has been tough yet fair in his expectations of individuals and the team.

Lue had a number of roles in his 11-year career as a player. From a starter to a sixth man to being left out of a rotation, this extensive experience gave him the unique ability to connect with players of all levels.

"We're making a conscious effort to do what Coach Lue wants us to do," LeBron James said. "He's done a great job clearing the air with what he expects out of all of us."

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 30:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers high fives Head Coach Tyronn Lue during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on January 30, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledge
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

"A lot of coaches just don't know how to communicate, so therefore they don't, and it causes different problems," Mo Williams said, via Chris Haynes of "The better you communicate with your players, it goes with years in the league. ... The older you get, the more years you get, the more experience you have, it's more of a partnership."

It's this kind of partnership that has allowed Lue to be successful no matter where he's coached, from his time as an assistant under Doc Rivers with the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers to his new gig as the head man in Cleveland.

More praise has poured in for Lue in a week than it seems was ever present for Blatt, and that's partly due to a change in style.

"I think we're playing at a faster pace," Kevin Love said. "Guys aren't thinking out there, they're just playing."

Significance of Victory over Spurs

While it was just one win, beating San Antonio went a long way in boosting the confidence of a group still working to find itself.

Cleveland entered Saturday night with an 0-5 record against the Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls this season. But the Cavs came away with their signature win of the campaign, hanging 117 points on the NBA's best defensive unit.

Cleveland's Big Three combined for 71 points, and each scored 20 or more for the second consecutive game.

"I think our team responded well, playing fast, getting easy shots, Kyrie [Irving] and LeBron attacking early and then Kevin in the low post and making jump shots," Lue said. "I thought tonight was a picture-perfect way of how we want to play. The guys came out and executed it."

While players like to toss around the phrase "one of 82" in an attempt to downplay both wins and losses, it was clear this game was different. San Antonio had won 11 of the previous 12 meetings between the two franchises and set the standard long ago for what a Big Three should be.

It's what Lue wants to emulate.

"Those guys bought in from Day 1: Tim (Duncan), (Manu) Ginobili and Tony Parker," Lue said. "That's the kind of thing I want here in Cleveland. If I get my top three guys to buy in, everyone else will fall in line."

Love's Revival

Perhaps no player has enjoyed the coaching switch more than Love, who's had arguably his best three-game stretch since he joined the Cavaliers.

Looking revitalized as his elbow touches have spiked, Love has averaged 23.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and one block on 51 percent shooting from the field and 52.4 percent shooting from deep in Cleveland's last three wins.

And as for having more fun, like Lue has preached?

"Listen, we're living our dream of playing in the NBA. I don't think anyone would argue that," Love said. "Winning is always fun, but I think our freedom of movement and how we're playing, it's getting to be that way more and more."

Lue has been vocal about wanting to get Love more involved at the elbows and in the post, where he's at his best. Lue recognizes he has one of the NBA's best offensive big men, and he is taking advantage of Love's plethora of scoring options.

"He basically said that I need to go back to being more in the post, a power player, more demonstrative down there," Love told Haynes. "He just said I need to be aggressive every game and play hard. He said I'm only going to get the best out of myself if I play hard every night."

This could finally be the Love general manager David Griffin envisioned when he made the deal to acquire him nearly 18 months ago.

Accountability, Adjustments and Unselfishness

Irving said Blatt's firing led to a team meeting in which players laid out their expectations moving forward.

"As we had our talk about a week ago after all the changes, we sat down and addressed what we needed to address," Irving said. "Coming in, we're not worried about shots, not worried about people being selfish with the shots that they're getting. We just want to have an equal offense, and if you're open, take the shot.

"Getting back on defense—miss or make. Holding each other accountable and expecting excellence on that end. Offensively, we're talented enough to get any shot that we want if we're staying aggressive and getting downhill on our pick-and-rolls."

Unselfishness has been the key for this new Cavaliers offense, which is relying on ball movement to generate points.

Save for their loss to the Bulls in Lue's debut, the Cavs have shown tremendous improvement.

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 30:  Matthew Dellavedova #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks with Head Coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on January 30, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Under Blatt, Cleveland averaged 22 assists per game, which accounted for 54 points. Under Lue, these numbers have jumped to 25 and 58.6. During their past four games, the Cavs are first in the NBA in offensive rating (121.4), second in field-goal percentage (51.9), third in scoring (115 points per game) and fourth in plus/minus (plus-12.8).

"It was just a big adjustment for us—a lot more possessions, a lot more free throws, just being aggressive," Irving said. "Myself and Bron getting downhill and creating shots for our teammates, that's what we have to continue to do every single game."

No one would argue Cleveland was a bad team under Blatt. A 30-11 record speaks for itself. But it hadn't reached its full potential. Lue has already made an impact in the way the Cavs play, how they handle themselves and what they expect from one another. A team out of excuses is finally on the rise.

And Lue has the full support of his players, something Blatt clearly did not have.

As shocking as the move may have been at the time, it looks more and more like the correct one with each passing game.

Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CavsGregBR.

All quotes not sourced were obtained firsthand. Stats via and unless otherwise noted.


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