Playoffs 2017: East Semifinals -- Celtics (1) vs. Wizards (4)

Isaiah Thomas has captured the attention of another undersized player: Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue

CLEVELAND – Tyronn Lue lasted 11 seasons in the NBA as a 6-foot, 185-pound point guard, mostly as a backup on seven different teams. The size disadvantage he faced almost every night, in almost every encounter, qualified him like few others to comment on Boston Celtics playoff marvel Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas’ personal tragedy on the eve of the playoffs – his younger sister Chyna died in a one-car accident south of Seattle on April 15 – and his scoring prowess this spring has captured the league’s and fans’ imaginations, Lue among them.

“I had a chance to text with him a couple times when he was going through the situation with his family and his sister. Just a tough guy,” said Lue, the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach. “You know, being small and always being the smaller guy playing overmatched and oversized, playing point. He’s a tough competitor, and to do what he’s doing right now throughout the course of these playoffs, having gone through a tough situation and a tough time, just shows who he is and the character he has.

“And to go out and score 53 points [Tuesday in Game 2 against Washington] on the night it’s your sister’s birthday, I mean it’s a big accomplishment and I’m just happy for him as a person.”

Lue, who turned 40 Wednesday, scored a total of 48 points in 21 playoff games spread across four postseasons. During the period, he played (1999-2009), the NBA was a slightly more rigorous challenge for undersized guys, what with hand-checking allowed until 2004 and hard contact adjudicated differently.

Thomas has taken hits, but not nearly what postseason opponents delivered a decade or two – or three – ago.

“It was tougher,” Lue said. “If you get going the way he’s been going, he comes into the lane a lot and he’s fearless, but you would get knocked down pretty hard if you keep coming. The fouls get harder and harder. Nowadays, there are flagrants. Back then there might not even be a foul.

“So it’s a different game and they changed the rules. But back then, yeah, if a guy is going like that – especially being small – going to the paint with those big guys, they were going to clobber you.”

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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