After missing nine games due to chest pains, the head coach was back at the helm as the Cavaliers overcome a 16-point deficit with 6:06 remaining in the contest to defeat the Washington Wizards 119-115 on Thursday.
Lue admitted to being “rusty”, but received help from LeBron James who scored 13 of his 33 points over the final six minutes to pull out the improbable victory.
“I told the guys after the game, ‘Good job of bailing me out,'” Lue said. “It was tough. First game back and not having a point guard and not knowing what sets to call and what to run because you haven’t worked on it. …Just on the fly, it was tough. And those guys did a good job of scoring 119 points with no point guard and just sticking with it. Our rotations were a little off tonight so, I mean, I was rusty.”
.@cavs trailed by 16 points in final 6 minutes, the largest comeback in final 6 minutes in LeBron James' career (his teams were 0-152 all-time trailing by 15+ points in final 6 minutes). https://t.co/bYdOAIGVn5— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2018
Fortunately for Lue, he returns to a red-hot team that have now won 10 of their last 11 games to remain third in the Eastern Conference, with the Philadelphia 76ers in pursuit having won 12 in a row themselves.
Heading into the playoffs, Cleveland will continue starting Jeff Green to prioritise flexibility, according to Lue.
Rather than going with a traditional centre in Larry Nance Jr or Tristan Thompson, Lue believes with Green on the court, the Cavaliers can get maximum offensive spacing while having another wing defender alongside James.
“I just like his versatility, I think defensive wise we can put him on [DeMar] DeRozan, you can put him on John Wall, Bradley Beal. You can put him on [Victor] Oladipo,” Lue said before facing the Wizards.
“I just like that we can switch a lot of 1 through 4 stuff and it gives us another ball handler on the floor too, so I just think it’s the right thing for us to start.”
A Celtics statement said a procedure on March 24 to remove a tension wire implanted during a 2015 operation on a damaged knee had found a bacterial infection.
Irving will undergo a procedure on Saturday to remove two screws inserted in his left patella at the time of the procedure, the team said.
“To ensure that no infection remains in the knee, the screws will be removed,” the Celtics said. “The fracture in Irving’s patella has completely healed, and his knee remains structurally sound.
“He is expected to make a full recovery in 4-5 months.”
News of Irving’s season-ending surgery was first reported by ESPN.
Irving, 26, was initially expected to return during the playoffs following last month’s operation.
Irving has been in dazzling form for the Celtics this season after his blockbuster move from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017.
His absence from the postseason give Boston a major headache.
The team are already without star Gordon Hayward, who suffered a horrific season-ending injury on his debut for the Celtics.
The Celtics are seeded second in the Eastern Conference, behind the Toronto Raptors and ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers in third.
Boston’s wunderkind coach has painted a masterpiece this season – arguably his best job during his five-year Celtics career – and as such, had made an undeniable case for the Coach of the Year award.
There are several deserving candidates for the honour and you could make a legitimate argument for any of the following: Toronto’s Dwane Casey, Indiana’s Nate McMillan, Houston’s Mike D’Antoni, Portland’s Terry Stotts, Utah’s Quin Snyder and Philadelphia’s Brett Brown.
But while all those coaches have excelled in some form or another, Stevens checks off practically every box as someone with results and circumstance on his side.
Brad Stevens’ thoughts on his Coach of the Year candidacy: "Could care less. There’s 29 other great coaches, and just to be a head coach in this league is enough. … There’s no way that I would ever consider myself to be in that race." pic.twitter.com/ZyYNoBNYCF— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) March 31, 2018
Casey in particular has been a frontrunner for much of the second half of the season as the Toronto Raptors have thrived while playing in a new, more modern system. Their bench, consisting largely of young guys, has also turned into a dominant unit and as a result, Toronto are leading the Eastern Conference with a 55-21 record.
That’s impressive, no doubt. But the Celtics are now just two games behind in the standings despite having an infinitely tougher road.
The case for Stevens isn’t centred on the fact they’ve won 53 games – after all, Boston finished with that many wins last season – but based, more specifically, on the ‘how?’
Gordon Hayward, an All-Star who may be the Celtics’ best all-around player, was lost five minutes into the season. Everyone knows this, but because it happened so soon, it can be easy to forget.
As if that wasn’t enough bad injury luck, Boston have also been without a number of their most important players for various stretches – 26 games missed for Marcus Morris, 12 for Marcus Smart, 16 for Kyrie Irving, 13 for Daniel Theis, 12 for Jaylen Brown and eight for Al Horford.
That’s why there have been times this season where you could have confused the Celtics for their G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
Yet the wins have kept coming as Stevens has wringed every last bit out of a depleted roster that returned all of four players from last season’s Eastern Conference Finals run and is filled to the brim with youth.
No matter the hand he’s dealt, Stevens continues to succeed and in a league where talented teams can often make coaches look good, there’s no doubt that in Boston the inverse is very much true.
Stevens has made his case and it’s one that can’t be ignored.