Despite a positive impression, the Indiana Pacers will be looking back on their Game 1 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a lost opportunity. The Pacers took Cleveland’s shot all afternoon, but still had an opportunity to win the game on the final possession. Though the Cavs led most of the way, the Pacers never let them close the door, keeping the game within reach before C.J. Miles missed the game winning jumper.
The miss itself wasn’t bad; it was a good look from Miles. The shot was on line, simply short, but rather the lack of adjustments to get Paul George a clean look compounded a game long issue of making the necessary adjustments to turn a loss into a win. Cleveland had a foul to give when the Pacers regained possession with 20 seconds left, forcing the ball from George on a double team when Richard Jefferson committed the foul to reset the Pacers.
There was no help for George after he got the inbounds with 10 seconds left. He passed the ball early to Miles when the double team came and never saw the ball back. If he expected it back, he didn’t really put himself in a good position to get it back, and if the Pacers wanted him to get a clean look, they didn’t run a play to ensure he got one without the double team derailing it (and let’s not talk about Lance Stephenson being “open” on that play).
After the game, George took ownership for the miss, saying he needed to be the one to take the shot. That was the obvious response considering George shot 9-19 from the floor and hit 6-8 of his three pointers for 29 points. George was there every time the Pacers needed him, closing the gap to one on a deep three pointers.
George’s buckets all night were timely, but that was the case for the Pacers as a team. George had a team high seven assists, helping the Pacers to buckets throughout the game that kept the game within reach any time the Cavs made a push. Cleveland finally appeared to gain control when they used a 10-0 run late in the third, but the Pacers once again fought back, in this instance due to the play of Stephenson.
Stephenson finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, scoring 10 of those in a six minute stretch early in the fourth to push Indiana back to within two possessions. It was then Jeff Teague who hit a pair of threes that ultimately gave Indiana the lead at 105-103 with 3:31 left. Teague struggled with his shot all night at 3-10, but those two threes, in addition to his trademark foul drawing for seven free throw attempts.
Unfortunately, Indiana’s propensity to quickly switch on pick and roll defense led to numerous possessions in which Teague was matched one-on-one with LeBron James. Predictably, that didn’t end well, but the threat of the three point shot kept the Pacers from helping as James simply worked methodically into the post for an easy lay-in. This, combined with the lack of adjustments on the final possession, proved fatal for the Pacers.
In a game where neither team was all that interested in playing defense, for the Pacers to simply give up possessions makes for an obvious series adjustment from the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month, though there is plenty of room for improvement from a coaching staff that hasn’t always been quick to make changes, which also include the Pacers still running their regular season rotation of Monta Ellis getting more minutes than Stephenson and game action existing for Aaron Brooks (who did score five).
Ellis was the most help George had early, scoring nine of his 11 in the first half while James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving all scored in double figures, but there’s little reason for him to get more minutes than Stephenson, even if you like Stephenson’s energy off the bench and want to continue starting Ellis.
Defense will be key in this series for the Pacers. The Cavaliers don’t need to find their defense to defeat the Pacers, but it’s imperative for the Pacers to find theirs. Indiana was able to stage their fourth quarter comeback on Cavaliers misses, but many, including a James layup miss, were routine buckets gone awry from the Cavs. Cleveland finished 53.8% from the field, but spent much of the game over 60%.
Much of this game inside the three point arc, though the Cavs were dangerous outside as well. They were just 11-28, but had seven different players hit threes. This did not including Kyle Korver, who had just one shot, a three-pointer ruled inside the arc, which proved to be the biggest defensive victory for the Pacers. They did, however, surrender three from Channing Frye.
The Pacers also outrebounded Cleveland, but Cleveland’s poor free throw shooting helped pad that edge. The Cavs were just 14-27 from the free throw line, a positive sign, especially early when the Cavs were awarded numerous trips to the line, including five and-one opportunities in the first half alone. That’s one number that will almost assuredly rise for Cleveland, making poor defensive adjustments all the more dangerous moving forward.
The Pacers did have 12 offensive boards, all by Thaddeus Young (five), Myles Turner (four), and Kevin Seraphin (three). Turner had eight rebounds total to go with 11 points, but spent much of the game being worked by Tristan Thompson, who had 13 reobunds, including six of Cleveland’s 10 offensive boards. This was expected to be a difficult matchup for Turner, but Turner in turn needs to make Thompson pay on the other end, he had just two shot attempts outside of the paint, going 1-2.
At 0-1, the series is far from over, but at 0-1 after a 109-108 loss with the last shot, the Pacers also gave away a golden opportunity to stagger the Cavs early in this series. Game 2 won’t be any easier; Cleveland will likely shoot better from the line, but they also saw that the Cavs aren’t necessarily a threat outside of their big three. Only Frye reached double figures after James, Love, and Irving, and Love had just six points after an 11-point first quarter.
Game 2 will be Monday night, presenting its own unique challenges, which may or may not include Aaron Brooks starting.
Nate McMillan was asked about changing starting Lance, and he suggested the move he might make is replacing Monta Ellis with Aaron Brooks.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelStar) April 15, 2017