The Pacers managed to effectively run Cleveland off their own floor on Sunday, helped by the best playoff game of Oladipo’s career.
The fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers got absolutely waxed on Sunday by Victor Oladipo and the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers, losing 98-80. Oladipo was unstoppable and the Cavaliers employed confusing tactics on offense, which didn’t stand a chance against the airtight defense of the Pacers.
Where did they go wrong? What did Indiana do well? What adjustments can be made?
What did Cleveland do wrong? Can we just say everything and leave it at that? For starters, the Jeff Green experiment in the starting lineup did NOT go as planned. His defense was bad, but his offense was far worse. He finished 0-for-7 from the field with no points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and a block. He ended the game -15 in plus/minus and missed key baskets in the fourth quarter, specifically two wide open three pointers from the corners. He was forced to play minutes at center on defense, along with Larry Nance Jr., who played 29 minutes, and Tristan Thompson, who played 1 minute.
The center problems are just the start of the Cavs’ issues. Larry Nance can not play solid enough defense to contain Myles Turner. He has the size, but not the skill. Green is similar. He has the ideal NBA body, but just doesn’t use it correctly, and he could not contain the Pacers’ talented bigs. Thompson in the past has been one of the better switching bigs in the league, specifically in the 2016 Finals when he was constantly on Curry off switches. He played well, but has fallen off a cliff this year. However, it might be time to give him another chance. He has lost a step, but there’s no way he would play as poorly as Green did.
Another way to fix the issue with Cleveland’s bigs is to forget competent rim protection entirely. Kevin Love at the 5 has juiced the offense for Cleveland this year and last year. They had been playing Love at center since he came back from injury in March, and while the defense remained poor, they were outscoring teams left and right. For some reason head coach Tyronn Lue decided to not go with this lineup. What happened? The Cavs scored the second least points of the season with 80. The offense was poor by design, and the defense did not come close to making up for it. Love took eight shots, making three of six on threes, and he needs to take closer to 15 in the next game for Cleveland to get a victory.
JR Smith also played well on both sides of the ball. His defense was pesky and he scored 15 points as the Cavs’ second leading scorer. LeBron James was really the only player creating. This comes as no surprise. There’s a reason he averaged a career-high in assists and also got over 27 points a game this season; he needs to do absolutely everything for the offense. He was uninspiring in this one, even though he got the triple-double, more importantly he netted 24 points and 12 assists. However, LeBron was 0-for-4 on threes, meaning his game wasn’t opened to its full potential. He also was stripped a couple times, and he didn’t attack in the post as he obviously can. Bojan Bogdanovic was succeeding in the post against LeBron, leading to James finishing the night 7-of-17.
For the Cavaliers to come back in Game 2 and beyond, James needs to be more aggressive. Love needs to start at the five. George Hill and Kyle Korver played a combined 21 minutes; they should take minutes away from Jeff Green who was obviously not effective.
The Pacers played about as well as they could have hoped. Bogdanovic played great defense all game, even though he finished the game 5-of-17, taking as many shots as LeBron James. Myles Turner was great as a pick and pop center. He finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds. He also was effective against an undersized Cleveland team down low. Lance Stephenson, the Swiss Army knife of this Pacers roster, played fantastically. He wasn’t hitting threes, but his defense was nice and he had a monster poster.
Victor Oladipo was the player of the night by a wide margin. He was unstoppable against Cleveland, as he swished his way to 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting. He had six threes, each of which was a dagger, taking the Cleveland home crowd out of the picture. He also had 4 assists, running the pick and roll at times. Oladipo completed his mesmerizing night with four steals, a couple of which came on LeBron, and he was simply a fiend on defense.
This game cemented Oladipo as a clear all-NBA player. He controlled the pace of the game, something most would have expected for LeBron, and he capitalized every single time Indiana needed it. When the Cavs were looking like they were inching their way back in, Oladipo would lock in on defense and bang a three. Thaddeus Young finished with a game-high +23 and he provided versatile defense and seven efficient points. His box score may have been slight, but his 31 minutes were extremely effective.
For the next game, the Pacers need to keep doing what they’re doing. The Cavs now need to win four out of six games, three of which will be in Indiana. Their defense was stingy, and their offense could easily get better, specifically from Bogdanovic, who got 15 points on 17 shots. It will be important for the Pacers to push even harder on the gas, as this Cleveland team has clear morale issues when down. The Pacers played as well as they could have, but the Cavaliers will not shoot 8-of-34 from downtown again. LeBron, Jose Calderon, Rodney Hood, Hill, and Korver combined to go 2-of-16. The home crowd will be rowdy and anxious for Game 2, and the Cavs will look to attack. Game 2 is on Wednesday in Quicken Loans Arena again after two full days off.