Tomase: Ty Lue hasn't been dominated this badly since Allen Iverson stepped over him

John Tomase
May 17, 2018 - 11:20 am
Brad Stevens

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

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The greatest mismatch in the Eastern Conference Finals isn't LeBron James vs. Greg Monroe or the young Celtics wings against pretty much everybody on Cleveland's roster.

It's on the sidelines, where Brad Stevens is batting around Ty Lue like a cat with a not-particularly-interesting toy. And the Cavs know it.

Two games into a series that the Celtics have dominated, Cavaliers players have gone out of their way to credit Stevens.

"I mean, I think you can actually take a lot from the Boston Celtics," said Cavs star Kevin Love after Game 2. "They had all their starters in double figures, and that comes a lot, I think, with not only Stevens putting them in the right position but their level of activity."

Added J.R. Smith: "They are extremely well-coached."

Added Tristan Thompson: "They are a very well-coached team."

Added LeBron: "I thought they had a great game plan in Game 1. . . .  Brad and the coaching staff did a great job in Game 1."

To those who argue that NBA success depends solely upon the relative superstar tally of each roster, let these playoffs nudge you towards finding a new schtick.

Stevens is clearly uncomfortable with all the hosannas, but oh well, because they're deserved. The Celtics aren't just winning without their two best players, as we've heard ad infinitum. They've managed to forge a new identity despite integrating reserves like Terry Rozier into roles of prominence on impossibly short notice.

The Celtics of November and December scored behind the individual brilliance of Kyrie Irving, the 3-point shooting of Jayson Tatum, and the floor-stretching ability of Al Horford. With Irving reduced to cheerleader since March, however, they've become an offense built around Horford in the post and Tatum off the dribble. They're still shooting over 30 3-pointers a game, but now some of them are coming from center Aron Baynes, who has extended his range to either corner. Baynes entered the playoffs with four 3-pointers in his career (in 28 attempts), but is incredibly shooting 10-for-20 in the postseason.

Contrast that with Lue, who needed to watch Horford shoot 8-for-10 in a Game 1 blowout before recalling (learning?) that Thompson actually defends Average Al as well as anyone in the league. Thompson belatedly joined the starting lineup for Game 2 and limited Horford to 5-for-13 shooting and 15 points. Not that it mattered in another Celtics win.

If the matchup of Stevens and Lue were taking place on the court, it would be the equivalent of Allen Iverson drilling a 3 in the 2001 Finals and then stepping over . . . Tyronn Lue.

Robby Kalland at Uproxx broke down how Lue has stubbornly given his worst lineup extended run throughout the playoffs. The trio of Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and Jeff Green can't score and it definitely can't defend. Their net rating of minus-19 is every bit as bad as it sounds. Guess whom Lue tabbed to start the fourth quarter of Game 1 after the Cavs had whittled a 28-point lead to 14? That's right! Clarkson, Hood, and Green. They surrendered seven straight points -- failing to box out Marcus Morris to get the whole thing started -- and the C's cruised.

Stevens has spent the postseason creating and exploiting mismatches, from Horford posting Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round, to Jaylen Brown on J.J. Redick in the conference semis, to Tatum on Kyle Korver or literally anyone on George Hill against Cleveland.

Lue, conversely, has let his offense stagnate into Four Guys Watching LeBron (with the occasional bucket from Love) and the Celtics know how to weather that.

What's amazing about Stevens' domination of this series is how so many want to chalk it up to talent, citing the fact that Horford, Brown and Tatum were all No. 3 overall picks, as if that guarantees anything. The Kings have selected in the top eight of every draft since 2009 and averaged 28 wins a year since. The third pick before Brown and Tatum was Jahlil Okafor, and he's already on his second team. The third picks sandwiching Horford were Adam Morrison and O.J. Mayo.

 Would Tatum be the highest-scoring teenager in postseason history without Stevens? It's hard to imagine. But the former Duke standout is averaging 18.1 points a game in his age 19 season (he's technically 20, but was 19 for the majority of the season). That's double what Kobe Bryant managed at a similar age with the Lakers.

That's obviously a testament to Tatum's talent and maturity, but let's not kid ourselves. It wouldn't be happening with, say, Ty Lue controlling his minutes.

So as the series returns to Cleveland for Game 3 with the Celtics looking to take a commanding 3-0 lead, let's not lose sight of the matchup that even LeBron is powerless to affect, because Brad Stevens is killing Tyronn Lue.

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