Tyronn Lue's inspired beginning helps Cavaliers avoid an ending

CLEVELAND -- After an 11-year playing career in the NBA, Tyronn Lue knew it would be important to deprogram himself as a player when he entered into the coaching ranks shortly after retiring.

Partying wasn't a problem -- to this day he vows he has never smoked or drank in his life -- but there is still a certain conduct expected of a coach versus a player and he was cognizant not to blur that line.

It hasn't been an issue for Lue. He modeled himself after Doc Rivers, he too a former player, and straddled the line as someone able to relate to the players he coaches without acting like one. Still, there's one habit from his playing days that Lue hasn't been able to shake: his pregame nap.

He awoke from one of those naps on Monday -- the biggest day of his career as a head coach thus far -- with his Cleveland Cavaliers trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1 in the NBA Finals and facing a potential elimination game later that night in Game 5.

Up, but still with time to kill before it was time to board the bus and leave the team hotel in San Francisco for Oracle Arena across the Bay, Lue flipped the channels on the television in his room when he stumbled upon some inspiration.

"I turned the TV on and they were talking about the Civil War," Lue told ESPN.com Wednesday, the day before the next biggest day of his coaching career when the Cavs face another do-or-die Game 6.

He watched. He listened. And he gathered some material for what was, by all accounts, a riveting pregame speech before his team took the court later that night.

The league allows NBA Entertainment into the locker room after the general media availability period has closed to capture moments like Monday when Lue paraphrased Mark Twain, of all people, when addressing his men.

"The two most important days of your life is when you were born and when you discover the reason why you were born," Lue said, captured in the excellent "Mini Movie" that NBA Entertainment produces for every game of the Finals each year. "And I think we were born to be champions. We got a tough road to conquer, but we can do it. We're down 3-1 but we got to have the mindset that when we go into this game tonight, we're going to win."

It was a bit of a stray from the norm for Lue, citing a great American author in the context of basketball, when often times he'll forgo saying anything other than a simple "bring it in" when addressing the group after a game because that's what his former coach, Scott Skiles, used to do -- not wanting his emotions to cloud his analysis without the benefit of reviewing the tape.

"Sometimes it's needed," Lue said. "I don't like to talk a lot, but sometimes it's needed. We just had a couple good things that I wanted to say before the game."

But really, a Twain quote?

"I don't know where I got it from," Lue continued. "I mean, I've known about it throughout the course of my life, but as soon as I quoted it, Kevin Love, he said 'Mark Twain,' so he knew."

Others might not have recognized the origin of the message, but certainly could feel the meaning of the moment.

"You know, it's funny," Richard Jefferson said. "To watch even him change. Not change, but to just watch even him evolve as a coach. He's always been kind of a quiet guy. Not a big motivating guy. Especially through these whole playoffs and just when he took over. But in the last week or so, he's been a little bit more motivational because he's pulling things from his personal experience; he's pulling things from what he believes that we need. It's not this crazy rah-rah speech but there are some messages within it that I think we're benefiting from."

Lue wasn't through with just quoting Twain.

"There were a lot of things I said in there," he recalled on Wednesday.

There are countless things that go into determining the outcome of every basketball game, but Lue wanted to focus on three fundamental areas to boost his team before they took the court: belief, toughness and sacrifice.

Twain's words checked off the belief category. He also quoted his grandfather to illustrate the grit he wanted to see.

"I said, 'My grandpa taught me a quote a long time ago that everybody can't walk in the streets, that's why they made sidewalks,'" Lue shared. "And we got to be the tougher team tonight. ... We got to show our toughness."

Finally, that post-nap TV show about the Civil War gave him an outlet to make the point he wanted to make about sacrifice.

"His sense of calmness and his sense of just 'stay in the moment' has definitely given, especially the young guys, just a confidence booster."
LeBron James, on coach Tyronn Lue

"That happened in 1861 to 1865 and we lost a lot of great men," he said. "But the thing that stood out to me was they were just showing how they lined up and they were preparing for war and the guys on the front line, they knew they were going to die, but they were willing to die for the guys behind them and they were willing to die and sacrifice for their country. And I said, 'When you're on that front line, you got to be prepared and ready to die.' I said, 'Everybody tonight in this locker room has to be prepared and ready to stand on the front line.'"

Cleveland stood strong that night, beating the Warriors 112-97 and giving Golden State just its fourth loss in 54 games on its home court since the start of the regular season.

"His words resonate throughout the whole locker room, and some of the things he said I won't bring out to the table because it's for locker room use only," LeBron James said when asked at Wednesday's practice what he remembers about Lue's address. "But just his sense of calmness and his sense of just 'stay in the moment' has definitely given, especially the young guys, just a confidence booster. For us as a group, when you have someone that calm and collected about what needs to be done and just staying in the moment, it just helps us go out and do our job."

As eloquent as Lue might have been, the lion's share of the credit for the victory goes to James (41 points) and Kyrie Irving (41 points) becoming the first teammates to ever score 40-plus points in the same NBA Finals game in league history, and he knows that.

"I did it one of the other games we lost, too, so don't make it seem like it's about that," Lue said. "But I did think it was good just saying ... everybody in this locker room -- training staff, coaches, players -- you have to be willing to stand on the front line tonight."

It worked, but don't go calling him Lue-stradamus. Before Monday, 15 other teams had been in the Cavs' former position as road team down 3-1 heading into Game 5 of the Finals, and six times they went on to win. Rare, but not shockingly rare.

History is even more on the Cavs' side for Thursday, as 26 times teams have been in Cleveland's current position as the home team down 3-2 heading into Game 6 of the Finals, and 14 times they went on to win (although one of those 12 losses on the flip side was the Cavs losing to the Warriors in Game 6 in Cleveland last June).

If the Cavs can get the series to Game 7, they'll not only be trying to buck the trend of road teams being 3-15 all time in Game 7 of the Finals, but also teams falling down 3-1 in the Finals being 0-for-32 in trying to come back from that deficit to win the championship.

Still, both privately and publicly, Lue exudes the confidence he wants to see in his team.

"We have confidence we can win the series," Lue said. "I mean, that's why we're playing. We know we're down 3-2. We were down 3-1, so we won it on their home floor, a hostile environment. We're coming back to our place where we know we play great, and we're going into it to win the series. But you've got to take it game by game, one game at a time."

And one pregame speech at a time, of course. Just how special was Lue's talk before Game 5?

"We're going to find out," James told ESPN.com. "We're going to find out. For that moment there, yeah [his message hit home]. For that moment right there, yeah."

But words only mean so much?

"No, words are great. But if you're able to finish your breakfast, then it could be an even bigger story."

With that in mind, Lue might want to wake up from his nap and flip on the Food Network for ideas for Game 6.