The Indiana Pacers had no answer for the big three of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who enjoyed some nice home cooking late to close the door on an Indiana comeback. The Pacers trailed by as many as 18 as Nate McMillan had no sense to remove Lance Stephenson from a Kevin Love onslaught, but a gutsy fourth quarter pushed Indiana to as close as four points in the final minute.
From there, the Cavs benefited from two crucial calls, as Myles Turner was whistled while going for the inbound against Love and Iman Shumpert flopped into next week against C.J. Miles. That took away chances for the Pacers to possibly erase their terrible second half play as a whole, resulting in a well-deserved Game 2 loss and an 0-2 series deficit.
The Pacers ultimately met a familiar fate as Game 1 due to their lack of defensive intensity, as the Cavs once again shot well over 50% after shooting over 60% for much of the night. The difference tonight was that their free throw shooting was near perfect (20-23) and they got plenty of help from three point shooting, finishing 13-31. Only three Cavs reached double figures, but nearly half of their threes came from their role players, including three by Deron Williams.
Among the big three, Love scored 27, James had 25, and Irving led all scorers with 37 points. They did so on a staggering 61% shooting. Love went to work against Stephenson in the third quarter for most of his field goals, but Irving made everything work for him on isolations. On one hand, that may be a positive moving forward, on the other hand, Irving doesn’t appear to have many problems going head-to-head against Jeff Teague.
Teague himself did play well offensively, scoring 23 points on 8-12 shooting, but a hard fall on his wrist took a while for him to adjust, though he did go on to score five in the fourth as the Pacers chipped away at their deficit. Stephenson started cold shooting, but wound up with 13 points. However, the decision to put him on Love (and then keep him on Love), was a huge turning point in another coaching headscratcher from McMillan.
With Larry Bird on hand yelling obscenities, he got a close look at the mess he helped create. Regardless of how far the Pacers can push this series, it will be another offseason of turnover as he looks to find the right combination of talent around Paul George, but at the very least, that turnover should include a new head coach, one that doesn’t get thoroughly outcoached in back-to-back playoff games.
That extends beyond simple coaching decisions and into rotations. While McMillan was able to successfully move Glenn Robinson III into the rotation in his return from injury, his short term positive play (four points in nine minutes) was well less than Monta Ellis, who had two points in 25 minutes. Ellis played more minutes than Robinson and C.J. Miles (nine points on 4-7 shooting) and just one less minute than Stephenson.
Though Ellis is a capable scorer at times, it’s easy to tell when he won’t give you much, but McMillan continues to ignore Ellis’s contributions for a set rotation. Simply leaving Stephenson in the game when the starters return has been McMillan’s biggest lineup adjustment since returning to Ellis as a starter, and there’s been no real attempt at shortening the rotation beyond only playing Lavoy Allen five minutes instead of 10.
George himself, however, was predictably great for Indiana, scoring a team high 32 points on 10-20 shooting with eight rebounds and seven assists. The shape of this series has been to see every missed shot be a heartbreaking one when looking at the lack of explosiveness around him. Thaddeus Young reached double figures with 16 points (and six steals!), but compared to what Cleveland is working with, it’s hard to consider him explosive as a scorer.
While Teague can score effectively, the only other player on the roster (short of Al Jefferson, who would allow the Cavs to shoot 70% instead of a lowly 60%) who has shown explosive abilities is Myles Turner. Unfortunately, Turner’s play has been a constant struggle for much longer than just this series, but has mostly devolved into him getting outworked in the post by Tristan Thompson, scoring just six points on 3-10 shooting.
Despite all the woes, the Pacers are just -7 for the series, but at 0-2, are looking less at making a statement and more at not letting it become a sweep. The Pacers can hopefully get a lift from playing at home these next two games, where they were 29-12. Their play in the fourth quarter has also been a huge positive for Indiana; they’ve beaten Cleveland 57-42 in the first two games late.
As well, some home cooking of their own would go a long way for the Pacers, but it’s going to ultimately come down to whether they can ever get a grasp on the Cavaliers offense to keep them from shooting a comfortable 55% all night. Game 3 will be Thursday night.