A comeback attempt by the Indiana Pacers proved too little too late as they suffer their only loss of the regular season to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pacers never led and at times it showed with a healthy dosage of J.R. Smith and Derrick Rose making the Cavaliers look like the championship contender they’re supposed to be.
Defense was optional for both teams, however, with missed shots proving the most reliable form of defense for the night. That proved fatal for the Pacers, who barely shot above 40% through three quarters while the Cavs scorched earth offensively en route to a 17-point lead at the end of the third.
That third quarter especially was a huge missed opportunity for the Pacers. Indiana turned the ball over nine times in the quarter, gifting the Cavaliers seven points in a quarter the Pacers lost just 24-20. The Pacers were finally able to make headway in the fourth quarter, trimming the once 19-point deficit to single digits.
Unfortunately, the comeback was stalled midway through the quarter with Indiana down nine. The Pacers came up empty on three consecutive trips only to have LeBron James push the lead back to double figures. Indiana once again cut the lead to single digits, climbing to within five when a wide open Darren Collison missed a corner three with just over a minute remaining to seal Indiana’s fate.
In the end, the game was decided by the role players from both teams. Smith hit seven three pointers for the Cavs while Rose scored 14 on 6-8 shooting, hitting a pair of threes himself. For the Pacers, meanwhile, those kinds of performances were absent. Lance Stephenson did play well, scoring 11 with a pair of threes and some light James-egging, but it was very much a game where no one went above and beyond the contributions they were really expected to make.
Cory Joseph looked good early with a pair of threes, but failed to hit another while Al Jefferson scored just six, a difficult pairing in the face of a Cavs team that got big contributions from their role players, not to mention an extra double figure outting from Jeff Green.
Victor Oladipo would lead the Pacers with 25 points, seven assists, and six rebounds, hitting a team high four three pointers. Darren Collison also hit three threes and dished seven assists to go with his 19 and Domantas Sabonis finished with a 17 point, 11 rebound double double, but the three combined for 11 of Indiana’s 16 turnovers.
The two areas Indiana did do very well in was three point shooting (13-31) and assists (27), but they were met to a draw in both categories by Cleveland. The Pacers did outscore Cleveland 26-14 in points off turnovers, but weren’t able to get easy points in transition, getting outscored 18-10 in fast break points.
It was a bit of a tall order to expect the Pacers to complete a season sweep of the Cavaliers, but tonight’s Cavs team was the really dangerous one that teams are not going to want to face in the postseason. Their offensive potential is frightening and to do what they did tonight with Isaiah Thomas struggling and James putting up a fairly quiet 26 points.
Tonight’s game not only highlights the importance of Indiana’s playoff positioning to avoid another first round matchup with the Cavs, but also showed just how tight the standings are at the moment. Indiana entered the night in 5th place in the East, but this one loss dropped them all the way to 8th with Milwaukee and Philadelphia picking up wins.
The Pacers do have a real opportunity to end the month of January on a high note with three home games coming up against three non-playoff teams. It does start on the second night of a back-to-back however, with the Pacers hosting Frank Vogel and the Orlando Magic tomorrow night.