INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Tyronn Lue returned to work humbled, changed and with a new perspective.
Cleveland's coach has been rewired by a serious health scare.
Lue was back on the sidelines Thursday night and had his blood pressure tested as the Cavaliers rallied to win in his first game following a medical absence that became necessary after he experienced "piercing" chest pains during two games this season.
Now that he's feeling better, Lue even joked about his heart after the Cavs overcame a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the Washington Wizards 119-115.
"I told the guys after the game, 'Good job of bailing me out.' It was tough," Lue said. "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. Our rotations were a little off tonight so, I mean, I was rusty."
Earlier in the day, Lue, who guided the Cavs to an NBA title in 2016, described his ordeal in some detail for the first time. Lue said he had been bothered by chest pains for more than a year, but when they worsened during a March 17 game in Chicago, he realized it was time to step away and get help.
"It's just the chest pains are very piercing, like, through the chest and around the rib area. So, it feels like you're having a heart attack," he said. "The doctor said, 'You might die, but it won't be from your heart.' So, that was a good thing to hear that my heart's in good shape. But it's just like electricity shooting through your body, through your chest area."
After stubbornly thinking he could fight through symptoms, Lue changed his diet ("No Shirley Temples), is exercising more, hired a chef and is taking sleep medication.
More important, he now realizes there are more important things than worrying about Cleveland's rotation, defending the pick and roll or getting the Cavs back to the NBA Finals.
While he was out for nine games, Lue received sound advice from a colleague and rival — Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who has been sidelined in the past with debilitating back pain.
Lue said Kerr helped him understand the bigger picture by putting his health first.
"We get so wrapped up in the game of basketball I think we kind of forget about everything else," Lue said. "This was the first time in 20 years where I really just had a chance to focus on me and get myself right and he reminded of that. We get so wrapped up in the game that we forget about real life and it was the best advice I got — so thank Steve for that."
The Cavs travel to Philadelphia on Friday and Lue said coaching against the Wizards will be a good test to make sure he's up for the rigors of travel and added stress.
"We know the games will be late and it will be a little bit more difficult, but just with travel and being asleep on the road and I've got to take my medication because sometimes I can be groggy in the first two or three hours when I wake up," Lue said. "I just gotta get in a routine and seeing how that's going to feel."
The Cavs, who have been ravaged by injuries all season, hardly missed a beat without Lue, going 8-1 under the direction of assistant Larry Drew. Lue has always trusted Drew, but he intends to lean on him even more as the Cavs head into their last four regular-season games before gearing up for the postseason.
"L.D. stepped up and did a great job," Lue said. "And other coaches stepped up and they've been doing a great job also. So, whatever I need them to do, they all just said, 'Don't be afraid to ask.' So, I'm very excited just for the playoff push. I kind of wish I could skip these four games and go right to the playoffs because that excites me."
Cleveland's players are thrilled to have Lue back. He recently returned in an advisory role, but stayed off the floor during games. Now that he'll be back in the huddle, the Cavs feel whole.
"He challenges us," LeBron James said. "He's been with us. He's our championship head coach so he knows everything about our team. He knows how to get the best out of our players, even though we've got a lot of new guys. But just his command, having him back out there. It's going to be good for us."
Following his health issues in Chicago last month, Lue said owner Dan Gilbert, general manager Koby Altman and others in Cleveland's organization persuaded him it was time to seek help.
Lue agreed, and then James comforted him with encouraging words.
"Having LeBron's validation, just being like, 'I got it. Take some time off. Get yourself ready for the playoffs. I'll take care of the team. I'll make sure everything is good,'" Lue said. "And he's playing at a high level, so he's a man of his word."