It’s hard to envision a worse case scenario for the Indiana Pacers than the one that unfolded to start Game 2. With so much being made of LeBron James not taking a field goal attempt for the first 10 minutes of Game 1 as his Cleveland Cavaliers took a shot to the chin, James reversed course, scoring the game’s first 13 points and scoring Cleveland’s first 16.
While that was happening, Indiana was caught in a perilous subplot as Victor Oladipo picked up two quick fouls, sending him to the bench a minute into the game. The combination obviously shellshocked the Pacers, and they fell behind 16-1 and eventually 26-8, with James wrapping up a 20-point first quarter as the Cavs led 33-18.
Indiana had three turnovers and missed their first five shots in the 16-1 run, but began to find some success offensively with Myles Turner scoring nine of his 18 in the first. As if contending with an aggressive, attack-first James wasn’t enough, the Pacers were also forced to deal with Cleveland waking up from three point range as well, hitting five in the quarter.
Oladipo’s return in the second quarter settled the Pacers, outscoring Cleveland 10-1 halfway through the second quarter to bring the game to within four at 39-35. Oladipo scored seven, dishing a pair of assists to bring the Pacers back into the game. Kevin Love pushed the game to six on the following play and then after an Indiana miss, got Oladipo in the air for three fouls, sending Oladipo back to the bench with three fouls after eight minutes.
Cleveland would outscore Indiana 17-11 to close the half, pushing them back ahead double figures, but the Pacers had their opportunities to not only cut the game closer than four with Oladipo, but to head into the break closer than 12, but costly misses and turnovers would prove detrimental to Indiana’s comeback attempt in the second despite winning the quarter.
The Pacers would fall behind by 16 to start the third, but would respond with a 13-2 run to bring the game to within five. The Pacers couldn’t get any closer than that, trailing seven while missing their last six shots of the quarter. The lead wouldn’t extend past seven in the quarter as the Cavs closed cold as well, wasting a great opportunity for the Pacers to capitalize.
The teams would go back and fourth in the final quarter, Indiana never able to get over a four point wall until Darren Collison hit a pair of threes late in the game to finally bring Indiana to within a one-possession game. Collison scored 10 points in the fourth, getting the Pacers to within three at 95-92 with 51 seconds remaining.
Indiana finally came up with the stop they needed, forcing George Hill to foul out on an offensive foul, giving them a golden two for one opportunity with 36 seconds. The Cavs had done a successful job trapping Oladipo, lead him to have six turnovers in the game, including a fumble to J.R. Smith with three minutes left after Smith trapped him in the backcourt.
Oladipo finally managed to break free on the possession after Hill fouled out, getting a wide open look at the elbow three that just went long, essentially wrapping up the loss for the Pacers, who were forced to play the foul game. Oladipo would hit a three with time expiring to cement the 100-97 final, sending the Pacers back to Indianapolis in a 1-1 series.
The Pacers did a fantastic job weathering James’s initial onslaught and Oladipo’s foul trouble, but that’s not really much of a surprise given how this team has fought all season. Indiana outscored the Cavs 79-67 over the final three quarters, working themselves back in the game with a steady dose of shots at the rim.
Indiana shot over 80% from inside the restricted area, helping to offset a woeful 6-22 night from behind the arc (with the Pacers hitting three of those in the final three minutes). The Pacers outscored the Cavs in the paint 62-30. Unfortunately for the Pacers, that kind of success was often met with an equal misstep, either a timely miss or a costly turnover.
They had 17 turnovers on the night, getting outscored 18-15 in points off turnovers. The Pacers were also outscored 15-9 at the free throw line in a game that was often frustrating in terms of officiating. Not only was Oladipo saddled with quick fouls, but in a physical game, James continued to escape any such whistle, even after blatant fouls in shoving down Stephenson.
Furthermore, Domantas Sabonis made the correct decision to wrap up James at the rim to prevent him from getting an and one opportunity, but the officials found the effort to be excessive, slapping Sabonis with a flagrant. James did not pick up his only foul foul until the final four minutes, when he was finally caught shoving Bojan Bogdanovic to the ground.
It’s no surprise the league officiates James differently. Of the top ten players in minutes played, James was last in fouls called, despite playing the most. As much as a team has to work through it, it can become an extra hurdle when he can get touch fouls on passes while given the benefit to be more physical when Oladipo attacks the rim. All told, the Pacers did a good job not letting those plays involving James boil over, still having their opportunities late.
For the Pacers, Oladipo led the way with 22 points, but went just 2-8 from three, hitting his second as the buzzer sounded. He played just 28 minutes, but still managed a +11 for the game despite those misses and while committing six turnovers. It’s hard to know where this game would have gone had Oladipo not been sent to the bench in the first minute, but it’s one of the adjustments he will need to make as the series progresses.
Better recognition will be key for Oladipo moving forward as well. The Pacers with Oladipo have shown themselves through the first two games to be the better team but still just sit at 1-1. Oladipo struggled at times with double teams and pressure, which will no doubt increase as the series continues, but split second decisions on passes and shots will need to be more instinctive.
In fact, the Pacers as a team seemed a step slow in terms of playing with instinct. They shot 52.6% for the game, but often played gunshy, not getting off the same confident looks they had in Game 1. The ability to attack the rim may have contributed to that, the Pacers also had 22 assists, but they were met with a much more focused Cavaliers team as well that did a better job making Indiana just a little uncomfortable.
That could be one of the big adjustments heading into Game 3 and whether the Cavs will look to use Tristan Thompson as much needed rim protection. They may need him in general, however, as Kevin Love hurt his hand with a little less than four minutes remaining. He did not return, but believes he’ll be playing in Game 3.
Game 3 will be Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, setting up an electric atmosphere for both it and Game 4 on Sunday. The Pacers will still enter their home stand with real confidence, but will have to show improvement if they hope to take control of this series especially when James ready and focused.