The Indiana Pacers squandered a good effort on the road in Cleveland as LeBron James asserted his will on the game in the second half. Bron's teammates followed his lead and closed out the 111-107 W for the Cavs.
The Pacers played hard for 48 minutes in Cleveland on Friday night, they just didn't play well for all 48. During key stretches in both halves the Pacers sputtered like a car in stop-and-go traffic that can't quite get out of third gear.
As they have in the prior three games, the Pacer starters began the game on fire, pushing the pace, hitting shots and jumping out to a ten point lead. Danny Granger in particular was on fire (he finished with 33 points).
But following the script, the first bench rotation let the lead slip away, not with blatant poor play, but little things. A turnover here, missed defensive rotation there, or simply mucking up the ball movement. Before you know it, momentum is flowing freely on the other side.
This should be expected with new faces playing together including two rookies involved in significant roles. So, yes, losing games early, especially to good teams, is no surprise. Nor is the way the games are being lost. Is it frustrating? Hell, yes!
I'm sure the frustration I feel is multiplied by ten in the Pacers' locker room. This is where the "pain" in growing pains comes into play. The Pacers have to learn how to win on the road. They've proven in Detroit and Cleveland that they can compete with good teams on the road. Now they have to prove they can win. Winning is the only salve for those growing pains.
For more on the game details, here's Bruno's Live Blog of the action for each quarter.
The game changed with eight minutes left in the third quarter. LeBron James hit a jumper to pull the Cavs within seven points. At the other end, Bron's body language changed as he dialed up the intensity, challenging Danny Granger on the wing. Granger went right at Bron and made a shot in his face, but for the rest of the game it was LeBron's game and everyone else was just running in it.
LeBron would score nine more points over the next four minutes including two fabulous dunks, one a double-pump, 'Nique-alicious finish in traffic. He also converted a reverse scoop layup and a long jumper for good measure.
LeBron's play raised the spirit and effort of his teammates. Anderson Varejao started driving the Pacers nuts with hustle plays. Mo Williams and Delonte West were dropping daggers when the defense focused on 23.
After the initial third quarter run, the Pacers didn't panic. Instead they gathered themselves had a couple of nice possessions with good ball movement, backed those up with a couple of stops and were able to beat back the Cavs run. Oh, and this was the aforementioned second unit lineup with Brandon Rush, Roy Hibbert and Jarrett Jack playing with Foster and Quisy.
Hibbert had his best game as a pro, but it included the sputtering I mentioned earlier. In fact, Hibbert offered some great play (dropping assists, tipping in buckets), good play (rebounding, blocking shots) and bad play (fouls and turnovers). But in the second half, it was mostly great and good. Unfortunately he fouled out early in the fourth leaving the Pacers thin up front. Hibbert is learning and there's no way to speed up the process.
Down the stretch the Pacers couldn't match the Cavs when they needed to make some plays to get back into the game. Danny Granger was quiet until the final two minutes of the game but while they had a chance to close within two, the rally was simply too late.
By the way, LeBron soared out of nowhere to swat away an apparent open layup by T.J. Ford with 40 seconds left that would've made it a two-point game. Was it on the glass? Not in LeBron's gym.
In the end, the game was close and frustrating to lose, but a quick look at a few key factors makes you wonder how this game was as close as it was on the road. The Cavs shot 17 more free throws and made 13 more. The Pacers had 24 turnovers and that's not counting a handful of missed fast break opportunities. Finally, for the second game in a row, the second half defensive meltdown proved fatal. This team simply can't win on the road giving up 68 second half points, including 40 in the fourth quarter.
Two fun items from the game:
- George Harrison was just abused at halftime when Stacy Paetz was talking about the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and rolled a video of her quiz challenging the players to name the four members of The Beatles. Everyone seems to know Ringo and several players named all except George Harrison. Mike Dunleavy pulled through with the full roster for the Fab Four.
- Also, Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner were chuckling over some Troy Murphy bio points which included his desire to be Superman so he could have X-Ray vision. Denari then went on to confirm that the Troy Murphy as certified spray tanner story is true. I still don't believe it.