CLEVELAND (AP) — Flanked by a security official, Tyronn Lue walked from Cleveland’s locker room toward his first postgame press conference in the NBA playoffs.
Lue had nothing to fear. He had all the answers in acing his first test.
The Cavaliers withstood a gritty Game 1 performance by the young and brash Detroit Pistons, who shot themselves to a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter before Lue, making his postseason coaching debut, called a timeout and moved Kevin Love to center. Cleveland took off from there and rolled to victory.
“Nice job, coach,” a fan shouted at Lue. “Just 15 more.”
With Cleveland’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love reunited in the postseason and leading the charge, the Cavs showed composure down the stretch in a 106-101 win over the No. 8 seed Pistons, who flew back to Michigan afterward to regroup for Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Lue’s “small” lineup produced big-time results.
The Cavs ran their offense — specifically a play called “elbow wedge short” — through Love, giving him the ball in the high post. That forced Pistons All-Star center Andre Drummond, the league’s leading rebounder, outside to defend. That opened more space for Cleveland, which reeled off seven quick points to tie the game.
Then, with the teams knotted at 88-all, Love made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and the Cavs were off and running.
“Kevin at the 5 is tough for them to try to defend,” Lue said. “I think we manufactured probably 10 points in a row just running that play alone. … Kevin at the 5 was a big adjustment for us.”
The Cavs spent Monday watching film at their complex in Independence, Ohio, figuring out how to improve on their performance. They committed just one turnover, but will need to do a better job of contesting the Pistons on the perimeter. Detroit made 10 3-pointers in the first half, when Lue chose to pack the paint to keep Drummond from taking control.
But while the defense wasn’t stellar, Love’s 28-point, 13-rebound performance provided both a confidence boost for the three-time All-Star and perhaps a glimpse of how the Cavs will play the rest of the postseason.
One of the knocks on former Cavs coach David Blatt, fired in January despite a 30-13 record, was that he didn’t use Love properly. Blatt kept Love on the bench in the fourth quarter of many games. Lue, though, has managed to maximize Love’s skills and given Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy more to consider for the rest of this series.
The matchup between Lue and Van Gundy, considered one of the league’s best basketball strategists, figured to favor Detroit. But Lue, who played for Van Gundy in Orlando and sat on Doc Rivers’ bench as an assistant with Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers, landed the first blow against his former coach.
“There’s some things I regret,” Van Gundy said afterward. “There’s some things I have to do to help them a little bit more.”
Van Gundy, too, has been impressed with the way Lue has put his stamp on a team expected to get back to the finals. Lue inherited a talented team with its share of dysfunction.
“The expectations are high and there are a lot of veteran guys who are locked into doing things their way. I don’t think Ty has been put in an easy position and he’s done a great job,” Van Gundy said. “Ty has a lot of toughness to him and when he believes in something, my guess is he’ll stand his ground.”
The Pistons prepared for the possibility of Cleveland playing a smaller lineup, but didn’t do enough to stop it. They’re likely to see it even more now given the Cavs’ success.
Van Gundy can counter Lue’s move by taking Drummond out, but doing so would sacrifice inside offense, rim protection and rebounding. Another option would be to switch assignments and perhaps put either forward Marcus Morris or rugged rookie Stanley Johnson on Love.
Whatever Van Gundy decides, Lue will be ready.
He didn’t show any nerves before, during or after his playoff entrance.
“I’ve been preparing for this moment,” he said before the opener. “I think I’m very well prepared.”