Even Without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Coach of the Year Candidate Tyronn Lue has the Los Angeles Clippers in the Hunt

ORLANDO, Fla. — Tyronn Lue won an NBA championship as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, and the work he did then doesn’t even compare to the job he’s executing nightly now with the cardiac Los Angeles Clippers.

In two nights, Lue’s Clippers wiped out a 35-point deficit to win in Washington and dug their way out of a 14-point hole in Orlando for another victory. Remarkably, Lue’s Clippers are the only NBA team in the past 25 years with three come-from-behind wins where they trailed by 24-or-more points in the same season.

Did we mention that Lue is doing all this without the services of superstar swingmen Kawhi Leonard and Paul George? Somehow, LA is still sitting at 25-25 and right in the hunt for a playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference.

Missing their two stars, the Los Angeles Clippers adopted a “no excuses” mentality

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue talks strategy with Ivica Zubac during a game against the Denver Nuggets at Crypto.com Arena on December 26, 2021. | Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Head coach Tyronn Lue said he let his Los Angeles Clippers know early on that he wouldn’t be lowering his expectations just because Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were out. Winning two championships as a player and another as a head coach tends to do that to a person.

“No matter who is on the floor or who is out, no excuses and continue to play the game the right way,” Lue said on Wednesday in Orlando before his Clippers beat the Magic.

When the Clippers don’t bring the requisite energy or grit, Lue has the cache and backbone as a head coach to get his players’ attention. When his starting unit played poorly in Washington and fell behind by 35, Lue benched the entire group to start the second half and turned exclusively to the other seven players on the active roster.

“For this team, he’s big,” Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe said of Lue. “He doesn’t care how good you are playing because he’ll play the next guy who will bring the energy to help our team win. The only person I’ve ever seen doing that is (San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich), subbing all the main guys out. Whoever comes in and brings the energy, that’s who (Lue) is going to play.”

The cardiac Clippers have proven time and again that they are never out of games

The Clippers have an interesting mix of players with several veteran castoffs battling for time with a group of talented and hungry youngsters. Nicolas Batum, Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka, and Justise Winslow have plenty of experience and grit, while Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey, Ivica Zubac provide shooting and boundless energy.

It’s not always pretty, but the Clippers keep finding ways to stay in games. When Lue turned to the reserves on Tuesday in Washington, the Clippers wiped out a 35-point deficit to beat the Wizards. It equaled the second-largest comeback in NBA history, only falling short of the all-time record by one point.

Coming back has been a hallmark of this LA team. The Clippers rallied from 25 down against Denver on Jan. 11 and 24 down in Philadelphia on Jan. 21, winning in both instances. Over the last four years — including playoff games — the Clippers have an incredible seven victories when trailing by at least 24 points.

“We don’t want to make it a habit,” Bledsoe said of the Clippers tenancy of falling behind. “We’ve got to come out ready to play. Some days we don’t have it, but we still compete and give ourselves a chance to win the game.”

Tyronn Lue might win Coach of the Year while guiding the Clippers to the 2022 playoffs

If Lue can somehow get the Clippers into the playoffs with Kawhi Leonard out all season and Paul George missing several months, he would deserve the NBA’s Coach of the Year award. 

The guy from Mexico, Mo., guided LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title in 2016 and won 51 and 50 games the following two seasons. And, as strange as it sounds, this might be his best coaching job yet.

At 25-25, the Clippers are incredibly tied with the crosstown LA Lakers — a glamor squad loaded with three healthy superstars. George declined to have surgery on his injured right elbow and might be back, while Leonard is reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn ACL. Their possible returns undoubtedly would make the Clippers more talented, but not necessarily tougher. 

Lue has instilled a mindset in this Clippers team that they deserve to win regardless of who is on the floor, and his players believe wholeheartedly in him.

“Our mindset started last year when we had guys in and out of the lineup, and no matter what, our guys competed and fought,” said Lue, whose Clippers pulled off the upset of the playoffs by eliminating the Utah Jazz without Leonard. “You’re going to have tough nights when you’re missing your two best players. You’ll have nights when you can’t hit shots or get stops, but if we’re playing hard and playing the right way, we can live with the results.”

All quotes in the article were obtained firsthand.

Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.   

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