Cleveland – — The perfect coach plopped down in his seat at the podium, his face a mixture of exhaustion and exultation.
Tyronn Lue has yet to lose a game in his first NBA postseason with the Cavaliers, who are 10-0 and looking invincible, threatening to sweep through the Eastern Conference playoffs on the way to a second straight visit to the finals.
The remarkable run has sent Lue — an 11-year, seven-team journeyman point guard — past Pat Riley for the most consecutive playoff wins to start a coaching career.
“I always just think back, coming from a small town in Mexico, Missouri, that I would ever be in a position that I’m in now today,” he said.
He’s not alone.
But with a firm, even-handed approach, Lue has bonded the Cavs and pushed them to their best basketball in two seasons since LeBron James came home.
Cleveland has a 2-0 lead over Toronto in a series that to this point hasn’t been remotely close.
The Cavs have won 17 straight playoff games against Eastern teams heading into Game 3 on Saturday.
With a win, they will match the best postseason start in league history.
Since taking over when the Cavs fired David Blatt in January despite a 30-11 record and conference crown last season, Lue has built trust within a team that often seemed on the verge of splintering.
He’s managed egos, implemented an up-tempo offense and made some deft decisions. And, maybe most important, he has James believing in him.
The four-time MVP, who recorded a triple-double — 23 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds — in Cleveland’s 108-89 win in Game 2 on Thursday night, said Lue’s steadiness has had a major impact.
“He’s always preaching next play, just always next play,” James said. “We come to a timeout, no matter what’s going on in the game, he just continues to breed confidence and talk confidence to us, the unit that’s on the floor, the unit that’s off the floor.
“Just a sense of calmness.
“There are a lot of things going on in between the game, and when you come to a timeout or whatever, before the game or at halftime, there’s just a sense of calmness. T-Lue has been great for us as the captain of this ship.”
When Blatt was fired, the outside consensus was that the move was made to appease James, who has developed a perhaps unfair reputation as a coach killer.
Lue had been Blatt’s top assistant, his defensive coordinator, but his ascension was met with skepticism that he would be able to control James.
Lue, though, made it clear from the start that this was his team. He challenged James during practices and in film sessions, demanding he work harder on defense. He’s held all the Cavs accountable. And as a former player who struggled when it was time to quit, he’s reminded the Cavs their careers are short and to embrace every day, every practice, every game.
“He’s brought clarity,” veteran swingman James Jones said. “He has been very consistent from Day One.
“He’s had a process in getting everyone on the same page and understanding what his level of expectation is and the things that are acceptable and unacceptable.
“He’s been extremely consistent in what we’ve needed to do in terms of execution, attention to detail and our pace and that’s been a key for us.
“As a team, we’ve embraced it and we feel like we’re moving in the right direction. We’re getting what we needed from our head coach. He’s one of us. He’s one of the guys on the sideline trying to do everything he possibly can to end every night with a ‘W.’”
The preparation by Lue and his staff has been pivotal for the Cavs in this postseason. The decision to use a bigger lineup in the first round caught the Pistons off guard. Lue left the Hawks scratching their heads when he played Kevin Love alongside Channing Frye during a crucial fourth-quarter stretch.
He’s also pulled James late in the first quarter to start him in the second, giving Cleveland’s reserves an offensive jolt.
Everything is working, and while it might be keeping him awake at night, Lue wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “There are a lot of nights we don’t get a lot of sleep.
“You’re dreaming of plays you can run and things that happen, so a lot of sleepless nights. But the way things are going right now, it’s worth it.”