LeBron James’ 21-game winning streak in the first round of the NBA Playoffs is over. Led by Victor Oladipo’s 32 points and four steals, the Indiana Pacers stormed into Quicken Loans Arena and stunned the Cavaliers, 98-80, in Game 1.
The last time LeBron lost a first-round game was May 6, 2012 against the New York Knicks as a member of the Miami Heat. That was by two points in a 3-0 series. This was very, very different, and you have to wonder how Cleveland responds.
Indiana jumped all over the Cavaliers from the start, racing ahead to an 18-4 lead and a 33-14 advantage after the first quarter. The Cavaliers had flickers of life thereafter, but never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Oladipo was unstoppable, slicing through and around whoever Cleveland put on him. More importantly, he was a terror defensively, as was the entire Pacers team. Cleveland shot just 39 percent from the field and 8-33 from the three-point line.
LeBron had 24 points and 12 assists, but nobody else showed up other than J.R. Smith, who dropped 15.
Game 2 is Wednesday at 7 p.m. This’ll be an interesting 72 hours.
Running commentary and highlights follow below.
Pacers 95, Cavaliers 78, 1:23 left in fourth quarter
We’re done here, says Victor Oladipo.
Victor Oladipo hits the dagger 3 and all the Cavs can do is point the finger/blame somebody else (what is Kevin Love doing...?) pic.twitter.com/5uIPaZLsbB— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) April 15, 2018
This wasn’t just a Pacers win. This was a beatdown. My goodness. Hope y’all are taking the Pacers seriously now.
Pacers 90, Cavaliers 78, 3:26 left in fourth quarter
Myles Turner is always the forgotten guy in the Big Man/Unicorn class of 2015. This was a massive block on Larry Nance Jr.
Pacers 88, Cavaliers 75, 5:50 left in fourth quarter
In a last attempt to get back into this game, the Cavaliers have begun trapping Victor Oladipo hard at halfcourt. This led to a Bojan Bogdanovic open three, but has otherwise worked relatively well. This is a weakness of Indiana’s.
Pacers 85, Cavaliers 71, 8:03 left in fourth quarter
Order has been restored. Victor Oladipo hit a three off a curl, then stopped on a dime on Larry Nance Jr. to hit a mid-range jumper to push the lead to 14.
The Pacers have spent the entire game daring Jeff Green to beat them from the perimeter. He is 0-6, including a bricked corner three when Trevor Booker ran as far away from him as anyone possibly could.
Pacers 76, Cavaliers 69, 10:28 left in fourth quarter
Nate McMillan began the fourth quarter with a lineup of Cory Joseph, Lance Stephenson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Trevor Booker, and Domatas Sabonis. Four bench guys and Bojan. Clearly, he’s trying to steal rest for his starters.
But after LeBron James spun around Sabonis for a fast-break layup to cut the lead to seven, that plan blew up in smoke. Victor Oladipo immediately checked back in.
Pacers 73, Cavaliers 65, end of third quarter
This was bizarre.
Lance Stephenson gets LeBron James across the face. pic.twitter.com/arfPAgPdgp— RealGM (@RealGM) April 15, 2018
Lance Stephenson swung at LeBron James’ head recklessly, which should’ve been an obvious flagrant foul. Instead, the referees deemed this a common foul after review and assessed a technical on top of that to Lance.
The logic is that the swat came after the play was over, but that’s still odd and doesn’t really benefit anyone. It doesn’t benefit the Cavaliers because they got three free throws instead of two shots and the ball. It doesn’t benefit the Pacers because it’s the same number of personal fouls on Lance, plus a technical. You’d think Lance is at risk of a second technical down the line.
So, shrug emoji.
Anyway, this is an eight-point game. Indiana sat many of its starters at the same time late in the quarter and Cleveland cut into the lead. Many analysts frown at this strategy, but the flip side is that the starting unit gets more time together. A coach is essentially accepting a temporary loss for a much bigger gain later instead of trying to ensure he never has a loss at all.
We’ll see if the strategy works, but given how well Indiana’s starting lineup has played in this game, I understand Nate McMillan’s logic.
Pacers 70, Cavaliers 60, 2:43 left in third quarter
If the Pacers lose this big lead they’ve built up beautifully because J.R. Smith keeps hitting shots like this, there are no basketball gods.
That shot helped spark an 10-1 run to get the Cavaliers back to 10.
The Pacers had to go to their bench, which is when they struggled the most in the first half. Will it happen again here? This is a huge, huge stretch. Buckle up.
Pacers 68, Cavaliers 50, 4:26 left in third quarter
You know who’s name we’ve barely heard this game? Kevin Love. He has just six points so far and barely seems to have touched the ball.
Against most East teams, Love’s ability to stretch the floor from the center spot makes him a matchup nightmare. Try your normal big guy on him, and Love stretches him out to the three-point line. Try your 4 man on him, and Love can usually eat in the post.
But the Pacers aren’t most East teams. They have one of the few players in the league with enough speed to close out on Love and enough heft to stop him inside. That man is Thaddeus Young, and he’s playing a marvelous game. You haven’t heard Young’s name much on this broadcast, either, but his ability to neutralize Young’s two biggest strengths has taken Cleveland’s offense out of its rhythm.
Meanwhile, Indiana has thus far gotten away with putting the slower Myles Turner on Jeff Green. That cannot continue if you’re the Cavaliers.
Pacers 59, Cavaliers 38, 11:08 left in 3rd quarter
Those games you often see when the favorite storms out of the locker room at halftime and immediately gets a large deficit down? That ... did not happen here. A layup by Myles Turner and a breakaway for Victor Oladipo led to an immediate Ty Lue timeout.
Pacers 55, Cavaliers 38, halftime
Raise your hand if you expected this. Now put your damn head down.
The Indiana Pacers are good, friends. Maybe you didn’t watch them a ton because they only played one national TV game all season, but they are fast, tough, athletic, and terrific shooting the ball from all three zones on the court (three-point range, mid-range, and at the rim). Victor Oladipo isn’t just a nice story. He’s legitimately one of the six best guards in the league.
Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t watch them much, either. Indiana raced ahead to an 18-4 lead against a shell-shocked Cavs team, slicing through Cleveland’s Swiss cheese defense. LeBron James kinda got it going a bit in the second quarter, but Indiana finished the half with a flourish for a 17-point lead.
Oladipo is destroying these Cavs. Nobody can guard him, and anyone who tries is petrified by his speed. That’s allowed Oladipo to step into five threes (he’s made four) juuust like this.
This pretty much sums up the first half.
Cleveland will play harder in the second half, but the Pacers have the kind of team that makes it hard to hide defensive liabilities. All five of their starters can shoot or drive, so they’re all threats. It’s no surprise that Indiana outscored Cleveland by 16 points with their starting lineup in (Oladipo, Darren Collison, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Bojan Bogdanovic), and only by one point with all other lineups.
The Cavs are in trouble, man.
Pacers 50, Cavaliers 34, 2:16 left in 2nd quarter
Please mic these two up every game. Please.
FUNNIEST NBA RIVALRY BACK pic.twitter.com/hlH9W1Sc3c— Lance Wobphenson (@World_Wide_Wob) April 15, 2018
Meanwhile, Victor Oladipo is everywhere, especially defensively. It’s like he conducts a series of hit-and-run attacks.
Pacers 42, Cavaliers 32, 5:16 left in 2nd quarter
Cleveland is far from fixed, but I do think the Pacers are letting them off the hook a bit by playing Cory Joseph and Lance Stephenson together. That gives LeBron James a defensive hiding/roaming place.
This helped, too.
It’s good to be the King pic.twitter.com/9b5CV6BgSl— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 15, 2018
But the problem for the Pacers now is that the Cavaliers can play four shooters without LeBron without sacrificing defense. Any problems the Cavaliers have with rim protection are now erased with Bron roaming. I’d get Darren Collison back in there sooner rather than later.
Pacers 33, Cavaliers 21, 10:22 left in 2nd quarter
Tyronn Lue decided not to take LeBron James out after he played the entire first quarter, which is understandable given the Pacers led by 19 points after the first quarter. Nate McMillan did not do the same with Victor Oladipo.
Hence, the Cavaliers scored seven straight points, including a LeBron fast break dunk when he so obviously cherry-picked. I laughed.
LeBron also called to the bench to come out after that play, so I guess we know why he cherry-picked.
Pacers 33, Cavaliers 14, end of first quarter
Hey, psst, Cavs. Guess what. When you trap Victor Oladipo in the pick and roll, he’s waiting for you to run away so he can pull the three. Maybe don’t run away from him?
Oladipo already has 11 points, four rebounds, and two steals. This is incredible.
Also, PLAYOFF LAAAAANCE.
PLAYOFF LANCE: ENGAGE. And then headbutts the stanchion lollll pic.twitter.com/KiYnObLU5K— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) April 15, 2018
The stanchion is playing better defense than the Cavaliers. I think Lance just wanted a challenge.
Pacers 18, Cavaliers 4, 4:30 left in 1st quarter
Tyronn Lue’s big playoff back-pocket adjustment to get the Cavaliers to defend moderately competently is to put LeBron James on Darren Collison to start possessions. I’m not sure what purpose this serves, because even if LeBron roams, Collison is a dead-eye three-point shooter.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers seem oddly prepared with Indiana’s strategy to put Bojan Bogdanovic on LeBron James and have Victor Oladipo roam in passing lanes. Weird, because that’s what the Pacers have been doing all season. After a rough Rodney Hood start, the Cavaliers put Kyle Korver in to try to make Oladipo honor him, but Korver started off cold.
The Cavs forced a couple early turnovers trapping Oladipo, including this George Hill slam.
But ... uh ... that did not continue to work. Indiana has been faster to the ball than its opponents all season, and the same is true during this amazing early run. Attempts to occupy Oladipo have not worked -- just look at him break up this two-on-one fast break.
Don't throw the oop around Oladipo! ♂ ♂ ♂ pic.twitter.com/4GOVocjH5K— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) April 15, 2018
The problem with Cleveland’s roaming strategy is that all five Pacer starters can shoot and attack. Asking LeBron to roam off someone he’s not guarding works best when LeBron’s man is not a threat. That player does not exist in the Pacers’ starting lineup, and because of that, any of Indiana’s five starters can easily attack the rim with no resistance.
So yeah. Bet you’re surprised.
By Eric Stephen
James, who has played in seven consecutive NBA Finals, has understandably been very effective in the first round of the playoffs, winning all 12 such series in his career, dating back to 2006. But in recent years he has been even more dominant in the opening round, winning 21 straight first-round playoff games.
Indiana was expected to be an also-ran this season, projected by Bovada during the preseason with an over/under of just 31½ victories. Instead they finished 48-34, good for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers even beat the Cavs in three of their four regular season matchups. But to continue that success this postseason and reach the second round for the first time in four years, Indiana will have to get past LeBron, which has proven to be damn near impossible for the last dozen years.
Cavaliers vs. Pacers Game 1 info
Location: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
Game time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Announcers: Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, Lisa Salters
Online streaming: Watch ESPN