Late game situations cost the Indiana Pacers an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the level of play that led them to a controversial final call was present throughout the game. The Pacers looked good early, notching a 13-13 tie with the Cavs halfway through the first, but stumbled from that point, getting outscored by six heading into the second after a J.R. Smith 60-foot heave to end the first was good.
Cleveland did a good job building on that finish to the quarter, jumping all over the Pacers in the second, with Jordan Clarkson getting hot to push the Cavs up 49-33 halfway through. The lack of composure from the Pacers was present with turnovers proving especially costly as Cleveland capitalized in a big way, blitzing the Pacers for a 13-0 advantage in points off turnovers.
The Pacers worked themselves back into the game, trailing by nine after a Myles Turner layup, but they were forced to keep pace in the final 2:30 of the half with LeBron James scoring Cleveland’s final eight of the half, including six at the free throw line. The Pacers again allowed the Cavs to dictate the game in the first half, making any positives a footnote, one that’s been shot through.
As expected, the Pacers turned up the energy in the third quarter, cutting the lead to two on a 10-2 run. In the run, Turner scored five, with a steal and a rebound, but was caught flying into Kyle Korver on a layup, sending him to the bench with four fouls. Turner was excellent in his minutes throughout the game, finishing with 17 points on 7-9 shooting. His 3-4 shooting from deep set him up to be the guy for the Pacers tonight, but he just couldn’t stay out of foul trouble.
The what-ifs of Turner’s time out could’ve been much bigger had it not been for a breakout second half from Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis has been a wreck this series, including the first half tonight, but settled into a groove in the second half, scoring six in the third and seven more in the fourth to keep the Pacers in position to take the win.
Indiana would outscore Cleveland 28-20 in the third quarter, breaking through on a Sabonis three at 83-82, putting the game into a back-and-forth affair down the stretch. The positives in the comeback and in taking the lead were often offset immediately through negatives either in shooting or in poor decisions and turnovers.
Lance Stephenson in particular was a coin flip on every possession in the fourth. He kickstarted the Pacers in the quarter to tie the game, but had a perplexing traveling violation in the backcourt all while drawing technical fouls and jump balls on James and holding James to just 1-5 shooting when he guarded him (an interesting sea change from the heavy advantage James has held in actual basketball related matchups).
Meanwhile, the Pacers were succeeding in spite of their best player, Victor Oladipo, who had himself a brick laying showcase, finishing with 14 points on 5-20 shooting. Oladipo entered the game tied 87-87, and tried desperately to shoot himself out of his slump, missing six shots in the fourth.
Many of those misses were not overly detrimental to the Pacers, given they were successful early at securing the offensive rebound for an easy putback. When that went away, however, the Pacers were forced to swim harder. The Pacers led 92-89 after James was called for a tech against Stephenson, cut to one after James scored on the other end.
From that point, the Pacers had four possessions in which they could’ve built on that lead, but came away with just one point to show for it, setting the Cavs up for the perfect opportunity to close out the game behind the tag team effort of James and Korver. With under four minutes to go, Cleveland would go on a 10-2 run, including a pair of killer threes by Korver to go ahead 101-95, that six point deficit holding heading into the final seconds.
Oladipo hit a corner three with nine seconds remaining to cut the lead to one. Cleveland without a timeout inbounded the ball to Jeff Green. Green and the ball were wrapped up almost immediately by Stephenson, setting up a chaotic sequence in which the officiating crew split their decision between a foul and a jump ball, ultimately giving precedent to the foul.
Whistling the play a foul zapped Indiana’s chances as Green split his trip, completing the 104-100 win for Cleveland, notching the series at a 2-2 heading back to Cleveland. The controversy surrounding the final play may see a split of opinion in discussions after the game, but it was a classic case of putting yourself in position to allow the referees to decide the outcome, which is a recipe for disaster in a game like this.
The Pacers didn’t play well enough to win this game, but still had an opportunity to do so. The latter remains encouraging even as the series now requires a second win in Cleveland, but the former has been the overall tone of the series for the Pacers outside of Game 1. Throughout the fourth, the Pacers were quick to rush shots, pulling up for early shot clock jumpers that may go down, but aren’t your best chance of winning.
Even at their best the Pacers wasted opportunities throughout the night. They ultimately outscored Cleveland in the paint, but it wasn’t an encouraging trek to get there. Thaddeus Young had 12 points and 16 rebounds, scoring five off of his four offensive rebounds, but finished 4-9 shooting in the paint and just 1-4 from the free throw line.
Beyond just Young, both were team wide issues. The Pacers missed 17 shots in the paint and could only work themselves to the line for 13 attempts, in which they missed five. Cleveland meanwhile had 26 attempts, hitting 22. The teams split their three point attempts made, but outside of Turner, no one on the Pacers really had it going at any point, while the Cavs enjoyed stretches from Korver, Smith, and Clarkson.
Bojan Bogdanovic followed up his legendary Game 3 performance with a fizzle, scoring 10 points, only really showing life early in the second half with back-to-back threes. Likewise, Darren Collison continued his shooting woes in this series, going 5-14 with just one three. Indiana’s shooting trio of Oladipo, Bogdanovic, and Collison were an abysmal 14-47 and 6-23 from three.
Despite all of that, the Pacers still had themselves in position to win this game. Maybe that’s a positive moving forward that throughout the game, they are able to withstand pushes from James and the flashes his teammates show, but it’s also a problem that they’re finding themselves in these double figure deficits they have to dig out of to begin with that now casts this series in a different light moving forward.
The Pacers aren’t going to be able to win this series if they only show themselves to be the better team for stretches, which has been a problem in Games 3 & 4. They may be able to force a Game 7 doing that, but with home court advantage surrendered, they can’t play flat for entire halves and come away with that extra win.
The series will be given another three day layoff before resuming on Wednesday. This extra day benefited James and the Cavs in Game 2 so the Pacers need to ensure that they’re the beneficiaries in Game 5. There’s still no reason for Indiana to feel this series is out of reach, they can still very much control the outcome even in the face of James.