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Paul George scores 36 points, Clippers hot behind arc in Lue’s return to Cleveland

Clippers' Paul George drives to the basket against Cleveland Cavaliers' Jarrett Allen.
Clippers’ Paul George, right, drives to the basket against Cleveland Cavaliers’ Jarrett Allen in the second half on Wednesday in Cleveland. The Clippers won 121-99.
(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

As soon as the Kansas women’s basketball team finished practice Wednesday night in Waco, Texas, Jayhawks assistant Terry Nooner went looking for the broadcast of the night’s Cavaliers-Clippers game.

In some ways, it was a matchup he had been looking forward to since Oct. 28, 2018, when he and a small group of friends spent the night at Tyronn Lue’s suburban Cleveland home, attempting to process Lue’s firing. Lue had coached the Cavaliers to three NBA Finals appearances and the city’s first major pro championship in 52 years, but a rebuilding season without LeBron James had begun 0-6, and that morning Lue learned he was out. The news quickly trickled out.

“Kind of a shock,” said Nooner, a high school teammate of Lue’s who, only weeks earlier, had joined the Cavaliers’ staff as a player development coach. “There were so many people there who had a lot of love for him.

“The day that he got let go, I seen grown men that were crying in the office. Guys, we don’t cry in front of each other, especially grown men — but literally, in tears.”

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The day was “surreal,” Nooner said. And yet what has happened ever since, with Lue now four months into a Clippers job that has seen him leave his imprint on one of the league’s best teams — a run that continued with a 121-99 victory Wednesday that pushed the Clippers to 17-6 — is no surprise at least to friends who have heard Lue repeat a certain motto over the years.

“‘It always turns out good for ol’ Lue,’” Nooner said, his laugh punctuating a phone interview. “No matter what happens in his career, stuff always ends up working out great for him, all the time.”

Lakers reserve forward Jared Dudley made news on Wednesday with an excerpt of his new book “Inside the NBA’s Bubble.”

Perhaps that is rubbing off on his team too.

Nine days after beginning a six-game trip with uncertainty, missing three starters either because of injury or the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the Clippers returned to Los Angeles carrying a confidence that emerged after weathering significant hurdles en route to a 4-2 trip record.

“Just a great overall team road trip,” said Paul George, who along with Kawhi Leonard missed the first two games. “Great camaraderie. I thought we built a lot of just team chemistry.”

Wednesday’s finale, with its up-and-down play, encapsulated their time on the road.

The Clippers led by 12 within the game’s first eight minutes, only to have their offense make three of their next 20 shots en route to trailing by four before halftime. They responded by winning the second half by 19 points, coolly pulling away behind George’s 36 points and Leonard’s 24.

Clippers' Kawhi Leonard drives against Cleveland Cavaliers' Andre Drummond.
Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard drives against Cleveland Cavaliers’ Andre Drummond during the second half on Wednesday in Cleveland.
(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

Lou Williams added 15 points off the bench and Ivica Zubac had 10 points and 16 rebounds.

The Clippers made 20 three-pointers — 16 more than Cleveland — only the sixth time in franchise history they have made at least that many. It offset their 16 turnovers, and the 18 points it led to for Cleveland (10-12), one of the league’s best at forcing such mistakes.

“They made a run, we kept our composure, and I thought in that third quarter we really established our defense and took off from there,” Lue said.

As for Lue’s own composure, there was little chance of him getting caught up in this return to Ohio. He had already greeted arena security guards and former coworkers last season in his return as a Clippers assistant.

So much has happened since his firing — he nearly took the Lakers job before his promotion with the Clippers, while the Cavaliers are on their second coach in as many seasons, slowly rebuilding the franchise under J.B. Bickerstaff — that “it feels like a long time ago,” he said.

“Winning a championship with our team the way we did in 2016, the first for the franchise, you would think and hope that when you come back, it’s always love and support,” he said. “So getting older and going forward with my life, we’ll see how that turns out.”

Five takeaways from the Clippers’ 124-120 loss to the Nets on Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

There is no way yet to know whether Lue’s Clippers tenure will reach the heights of his time in Cleveland, where he was 169-103, including the postseason, and spent one June afternoon riding in the bed of a truck down the city’s East Ninth Street during a championship parade. The tears some shed when he left were because he’d become known for taking care of other employees, said Nooner, who’d heard stories before his hiring of his former Raytown (Mo.) High teammate splitting playoff shares with secretaries and pushing for contract extensions for lower-level coaches.

“You get used to somebody who’s real good, you don’t appreciate it until it’s gone,” he said.

Lue quickly developed trust within his new team, too; Leonard said the team bought in quickly to Lue’s coaching since his promotion in October. It showed again during what Leonard called a “tough” trip, one capped by a victory in the building where Lue used to call home.

“I thought that he would be there for a long, long time,” Nooner said. “The fact that he’s not there and then that he’s coaching the Clippers is just crazy how that whole thing has turned.”

Three takeaways on the Clippers

1. After playing a then-season-low 11 minutes Sunday, followed by four minutes Tuesday, guard Luke Kennard played 22 minutes, scoring nine points. The two had a “good conversation,” before Wednesday’s game, coach Tyronn Lue said, who added that he wanted to see only Kennard remain aggressive.

2. Cleveland’s dynamic young backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland had combined
to attempt eight three-pointers per game this season, but neither player shot a three-pointer through three quarters Wednesday and they finished with just one apiece.

3. On the same day Lakers guard Jared Dudley revealed in a new book that he considered it “disrespectful for Paul George, who hasn’t won, to put himself on the level of [LeBron James] and [Anthony Davis],” George produced one of his most efficient performances, making eight of nine three-pointers with zero turnovers. Lue said it was George’s job to block out such criticism. “Who cares?” Lue said. “I really don’t care what people say on the outside. And you know, I hope PG doesn’t either.”


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