The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Indiana Pacers for the second time in a game that was closer than it needed to be, 117-111. A LeBron James-led defense showed signs of improvement, but it still has a ways to go.
That might work against Indiana, but the second round may not be so forgiving.
Double-teaming Paul George sparked a run.
Nothing came easy for George after an 18-point first-half on 6-of-9 shooting. He was hounded when he caught the ball, and Cleveland was able to force a handful of turnovers and halt Indiana’s momentum.
The Cavs held a 19-point lead late in the third quarter as Lance Stephenson and Jeff Teague became the alternative scoring options Cleveland allowed. That didn’t work well.
George scored 14 points in the second half on a much shakier 4-of-11 shooting. That made the difference.
But the defense let up after a brief display.
A fourth-quarter shootout changed what looked to be a Cavaliers blowout in the making.
Cleveland was outscored, 33-21, in the final frame, and Indiana brought the deficit down to seven with less than three minutes to go.
A porous Pacers defense in the final seconds made it easy for Cleveland to recover, but things won’t be this simple going forwards.
Having James certainly helps closing games out, too.
It’s still concerning that this game came down to the final seconds when it had no business doing so — again. It’s too early to panic, but things still aren’t right in Cleveland.
Kyrie Irving and the Cavs offense rolled, and that save them again.
Irving heated up late when his team needed him, and Kevin Love and James carried the weight until he did.
The Big Three combined for 89 points on 31-of-51 shooting, and needed every bit of the scoring output with J.R. Smith sidelined for the second half with a hamstring injury.
James had an unusually sloppy outing with eight turnovers, but otherwise the team shot 55 percent from the field, and that by itself should have put this one out of reach. Instead, the Pacers hung around until the end.
That was a similar story to Game 1, and it’s scary enough for Cavaliers fans that this is happening at home against a mediocre Pacers team.
If the Cavaliers hope to return to the Finals, their defense has to take it up several more notches than this.