Gregg Popovich has long been heralded as the NBA's best active head coach, but Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has proven throughout his career that he deserves the crown.
Before becoming the Clippers' head honcho, Lue coached the Cavaliers to an NBA championship in 2016, but he never quite earned the respect he deserved because of LeBron James' gravitational pull. But now that he's free from the King, Lue is starting to get his flowers and show that he's a special coach.
Here are 7 reasons why Lue is the best coach in the league.
He's the Comeback King
Trailing by two games in a playoff series is typically a death sentence, but not for Lue and the Clippers.
Not for Ty Lue, though. His teams are an unthinkable 10-2 when facing elimination, which is the all-time best record by a head coach.
No one will forget 2016, when the Cavs improbably fought back from a 3-1 deficit against the mighty 73-9 Warriors thanks to otherworldly performances by James and Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green's idiocy, as well as smart lineup adjustments.
Two years later, Lue might've put together an even more impressive coaching performance. Lue helped lead the Cavs all the way to the Finals with J.R. Smith, Jeff Green, George Hill and Tristan Thompson flanking LBJ. That squad still defeated the gritty Celtics after falling behind 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
And now in 2021, it's the same story. The Clippers blew their first two home games against the Dallas Mavericks and found themselves trailing by 19 points in Game 3, only to win in seven games.
He's a Playcalling Wizard
The playoffs can bog down and become a one-on-one slugfest as teams relentlessly switch and force each other to get buckets in isolation. But that doesn’t mean Lue hasn’t shined with some excellent play calls.
Los Angeles Clippers | ATO Chin Ricky Decoy Lob— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) June 25, 2021
Just missed this one for Mann, Ty Lue went to the same set in the 2018 East Finals for Jeff Green: pic.twitter.com/i1pttwoPrm
In Game 4, Lue then unveiled this high-school play.
These are just a couple of examples of Lue’s wizardry. The Clippers coach continually puts his players in positions to succeed, which is easier said than done for plenty of NBA teams.
He's a Master at Adjustments
Lue is widely considered one of the league's best coaches for in-game adjustments, one of the most valuable skills a coach can have in his repertoire.
This postseason, Lue has been better than ever before. Against the Mavericks, he started out by letting Luka Doncic roast Ivica Zubac and Marcus Morris Sr. on switches before pivoting to a switch-and-recover scheme. He’s gone small at just the right moments by playing either the versatile Nic Batum or Morris at center. When those two share the floor with Paul George, Reggie Jackson and Mann, the Clippers are obliterating opponents by 17 points per 100 possessions this postseason.
Against the Jazz, Lue turned Gobert from Defensive Player of the Year to a scrambling big by going small and spreading the Jazz defense thin.
For Lue, it’s been easy. Oh, the Suns are playing the undersized Dario Saric? Lue inserted DeMarcus Cousins and watched him dominate in the paint. Perhaps Lue’s best adjustment against the Suns having the Clips attack Phoenix's smaller guards on defense.
Clippers are spamming putting a small in pick and roll. Looks like they are going CP3 instead put Booker in the action. Two on the ball, roll, able to create an open look. pic.twitter.com/Qc1VDjcoic— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) June 29, 2021
The Clippers literally call Lue “Bill Belichick” due to his savvy in-game adjustments. What more do you need to know?
He's a Relationships Coach
The “treat everyone the same” mantra is a commonly used platitude during a coaches’ introductory press conference but rarely do they ever follow through with that.
Lue is different, though. In a Cavaliers huddle, Lue calmly told James, “shut the f*** up. I got this.”
Players respect coaches who don’t play favorites. Lue’s ability to treat the 12th man on the roster and a superstar of James’ caliber the same way is a testament to his relationship skills.
Don’t take our word for it. Mann himself is a huge advocate for Lue, and shared how much his teammates appreciate their head coach.
“A lot of guys on the team speak highly of Ty Lue." Mann told Sports Illustrated. "[They’ll say,] there’s not many coaches out there like him. Don’t take him for granted. Be appreciative."
A coach who can create and sustain genuine relationships has a domino effect on players’ confidence, which then ripples through the roster. The results speak for themselves.
“It’s how you talk to that person,” former Cavaliers forward Channing Frye told the LA Times. “Is there trust? Is there love? Do you see each other’s side? That’s what T. Lue did for all of us.”
He's Instilled a Tough-nosed Mindset
Last year’s Clippers squad was a completely different being than the 2021 version under Lue. With Rivers as head coach, the Clippers reverted to their old ways by blowing crucial playoff leads, having haphazard offensive sets and displaying little tenacity.
When the Nuggets mounted a 3-1 comeback, the Clippers looked clueless and lifeless as they eventually succumbed to defeat. But with Lue as head coach, the tables have turned. Now it’s the Clippers with the winner’s mentality.
Look no further than Game 6 against the Jazz. The old Clippers would have folded after trailing by 25 points. But the 2021 Clips continued to fight. Mann had the game of his life with 39 points, while George, Jackson and Batum all turned in phenomenal performances.
“The playoffs are about grit." George said. "It’s about fighting. It’s about whatever it takes, and time after time, I think we’ve shown that."
He Knows How to Compensate for Injuries
Even the Clippers have had to deal with their fair share of injuries this postseason. But he’s managed to deal with three key players being out than anyone could have hoped.
Serge Ibaka, a versatile big man who can defend the paint and drain threes, has been out for virtually the whole postseason while dealing with a back injury. Kawhi Leonard has now been sidelined seven games with a murky knee injury that may or may not be an ACL tear. In his absence, the Clippers are 4-3 against the top two seeds in the Western Conference.
If those weren’t enough, center Ivica Zubac is out with a sprained MCL. Zubac has been instrumental in helping stop Deandre Ayton while grabbing tons of offensive rebounds and finishing at the basket.
In Zubac’s absence, the Clippers went small and dusted the Suns by 14 points.
He Develops Young Players
Lue has historically only coached championship contending squads, making playing time for young prospects scarce. That’s natural for any team in win-now mode, but Lue has still managed to unearth some gems. Take Mann for instance, who is an entirely different player this season compared to his rookie year.
Mann’s minutes, shooting percentages, points and rebounds have all taken a dramatic step forward under Lue. He is a more confident player who drives to the rim with purpose and rarely turns the ball over. A lot of that is on Mann’s ability to improve, but Lue is certainly a factor.
Then there’s Zubac, who was having some of the best postseason games of his career before injuring his knee. But perhaps the truest testament to Lue’s ability to develop players is Jackson.
Entering the season, Jackson was a supporting cast member averaging 10 points in 23 minutes per game. Scoring bursts were followed by unforced errors and defensive miscues. But when the Clippers were down against the Mavericks, with Patrick Beverley struggling, Lue turned to Jackson, and the rest is history.
Since scoring 14 points in the first quarter of Game 6 against the Mavs, Jackson has averaged 19.8 points on 51/42/85 shooting splits. The sub has transformed into a star. Jackson makes far fewer mistakes on both ends of the floor, and clearly looks more comfortable than ever before. Lue trusted Jackson, and Jackson rewarded that trust because he could play freely.
One thing about Ty Lue is the guys he does play, he lets them HOOP and gives them confidence to go out and hoop every night— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) June 29, 2021
No matter what happens in the rest of this Suns series, Lue has proven he’s the best coach in the league.
Photo: Getty Images