CLEVELAND -- Tyronn Lue missed nine games because of chest pains, only to endure a thrilling 119-115 comeback win by the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Washington Wizards on Thursday in Lue's return to the sideline.
Cleveland trailed by 16 points with 6:06 left in the fourth quarter before LeBron James helped the Cavs pull off the unthinkable, as NBA teams had been just 2-461 when by trailing by 16 points or more entering the final six minutes of a game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And James personally was 0-152 in his career when trailing by 15 or more in the final six minutes before he registered 13 of his 33 points, four of his 14 assists and four of his nine rebounds in the final period to pull off the win.
And Lue, when it was all over, thanked his team for securing the victory when he didn't put them in the best position to succeed.
"I told the guys after the game, 'Good job of bailing me out,' " Lue said. "It was tough. First game back and not having a point guard and not knowing what sets to call and what to run because you haven't worked on it. ... Just on the fly, it was tough. And those guys did a good job of scoring 119 points with no point guard and just sticking with it. Our rotations were a little off tonight so, I mean, I was rusty."
Cavs starting point guard George Hill missed his third straight game because of a sprained left ankle. Cleveland backup point guard Jose Calderon was a late scratch because of discomfort in his left hamstring.
That left Lue naming Cedi Osman as a starter. It worked out fine at first, as the Cavs led by 39-26 at the end of the first quarter, but then Lue said he forced a lineup that had both Larry Nance Jr. and Tristan Thompson on the floor together at the same time, and Washington exploited it.
"I thought with them playing [Ian] Mahinmi and them playing [Mike] Scott, I thought we could get away with it," Lue said of the pair, who had not played a single minute together this season before Thursday. "And it's kind of hard playing two 5s off the bench. So, I tried to do that and tried to feature JR [Smith] and [Kyle] Korver off the ball with [Jordan] Clarkson. But it didn't look too good. But they haven't worked on it either, so, like I said, I put them in that position. I wanted to find Tristan minutes. I wanted to find Larry minutes. Because it's going to be important in the playoffs. You never know what happens. So, like I said, they did a good job of bailing me out tonight, and I appreciate that."
While the Cavs' coaching staff has faith in Nance's midrange jump-shooting ability, he has been most effective at the 5. With Lue naming Jeff Green his starter in the frontcourt along with James and Kevin Love for the postseason, he admitted that it would be hard for him to continue to play both Nance and Thompson in the postseason, when his rotation typically runs only nine deep.
Lue hasn't made that decision yet, with only three games left before the playoffs.
"Not yet," Lue said. "But we will have to. Yes."
Lue also took the blame for not properly preparing his team with what to run without a traditional point guard in the lineup. Cleveland ended up with 16 turnovers, leading to 26 points for Washington.
"Not really having a good package to run without a point guard," Lue said. "We ran some stuff, but it wasn't really that good."
Still, the Cavs won for the 10th time in the past 11 games and embraced Lue's presence nonetheless.
"It was great," Love said. "Felt like we had our leader back. ... It was good to have him back and getting us ready for these last three games and heading into the playoffs."
And Lue, with admittedly some kinks to work out, is confident that the playoffs will be a more successful time for his team than, say, that Nance-Thompson partnership was.
"I think we're ready for a deep run," Lue said.