All things considered, for an Indiana Pacers team that was blitzed out of the gate by the Cleveland Cavaliers, they did a fairly good job making a game of things. Kevin Love shouldered the weight of the Cleveland offense early and often, scoring 16 points early as the Cavs jumped all over Indiana 27-8. The Pacers managed to adjust, holding the Cavs scoreless for the next 4:49 of the quarter, scoring the next 13 points.
LeBron James put in a bucket at the end of the first quarter to extend Cleveland's lead to 29-21, but the Pacers had begun to slowly chip away at the Cleveland advantage. Indiana kept the game within single digits, eventually breaking through the six point wall with a 7-0 run late, clawing to within a point 50-49. With the ball and a chance for the lead, Indiana's two for one opportunity failed, allowing the Cavs to score, leading 52-49 at the break.
The third quarter began much the same way the first did, with the Cavs offense taking control of the game. Cleveland hit their first five attempts of the quarter, outscoring Indiana 15-5 to move ahead by 13. Indiana would manage to close the gap to only within nine, eventually falling further and further out of reach as Cleveland outscored Indiana 35-22 in the third quarter.
Things didn't move much in Indiana's favor in the fourth, except for leveling out some numbers in an ample amount of garbage time as Indiana closed the game on a 9-2 run, falling 109-97. Indiana's late run came on three pointers and free throws, two of many areas where the Pacers fell short of the Cavaliers. Ultimately, the game's biggest difference game with shooting; Cleveland finished at 52.6% for the night, while Indiana was just 39.3%.
So some credit due to the Pacers for managing to fight for as long as they did, despite having such a disadvantage from the floor and also falling on the short end of a long lopsided free throw battle, one that evened itself out in garbage time. Indiana made up a bulk of the difference with offensive rebounds, pulling in 15 of them, and getting healthy contributions from their bench, Indiana outscoring Cleveland 52-16, a total that wasn't even that close for Cleveland, who had just one bench point through three quarters.
Of course, the difference comes when you've got players capable of carrying the load. Kevin Love did most of his work early, but scored a season best 28 on the night, shooting 9-13 from the floor. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James also helped out, scoring 24 & 19 respectively, on 9-17 and 9-18 shooting. While Cleveland got no help from their bench, the Pacers had no one to carry the offensive load necessary to cancel out Cleveland's big three.
David West found some life in his jumper in his second game back, but at 14 points, was hardly enough for a leading scorer in a game like tonight's. A balanced attack on offense is minimized when there's not a balanced attack on defense to get stops. The Pacers often found themselves on the wrong end of Cleveland transition baskets, getting outscored 12-2 in fast break points.
While all five Cleveland starters shot at or above 50%, none of Indiana's starters reached that level. After a big night last night, Rodney Stuckey was just 2-6 from the floor tonight, but an ability to get to the line (a rare commodity for the Pacers) gave him nine points on the night. Solomon Hill made some good moves towards the basket, but as expected, struggled against James when James made things happen, scoring 11 points on 4-11 shooting. Ian Mahinmi pulled in 10 rebounds and scored seven points, but was just 3-8 from the floor.
The Pacers did find more success off the bench, with Chris Copeland leading the bench with 11 points and four assists. Lavoy Allen and Luis Scola also reached double figures with 10 points apiece. Allen continued to rebound well with eight (three offensive) with Scola picking up five boards and three assists. C.J. Miles hit a pair of threes early, but had just six points on a 2-9 shooting night, continuing his bad shooting trend, but continued to offer up positives away from shooting with three assists and one of Indiana's two steals on the night.
Indiana won the turnover battle, committing just eight to Cleveland's 10, but while they managed to score 15 points off of turnovers, they were unable to force turnovers at a rate necessary to limit Cleveland's opportunities. Whether it be a back-to-back issue or a talent issue, the Pacers were on the wrong side of most of the game's loose ball plays, though they did make up for much of it with their offensive rebounding.
All in all, Indiana had no margin for error against the Cavs, and despite digging out of a 19 point hole, hurt themselves from the get go even falling into that hole. In a game James offered his lamentations at not getting to face Paul George, he likely didn't have the same feelings for Roy Hibbert, whose absence opened up the paint for 48 Cleveland points.
The loss drops Indiana to 7-10, as they've alternated wins and losses over their last six games. To keep that alive, the Pacers will have to find some kind of answer for the Phoenix Suns, who haven't broken a sweat in their track meets with Indiana over the past two seasons, as Indiana will travel out West for a three game trip starting with the Suns on Tuesday.