There will be a Game 7!
The Indiana Pacers got out of their own way for a change, setting the tone in Game 6 with physicality, shot making, and a want about them. The Cleveland Cavaliers did lead early, however, hitting six threes in the first quarter, but Victor Oladipo made a big impact, guiding Indiana back on a 12-2 run to win the first quarter.
Oladipo had 15 points in the first quarter, breaking out after a trio of dismal performances in the middle part of the series. Not only was Oladipo scoring, but he was leading the way. Through the year, even his poor shooting efforts were lifted due to his impact on the floor and the elevation of the team around him.
That leadership by example had slipped away with his shooting in this series. His call for screens as he was engulfed by double teams near half court had constantly put his team at a disadvantage offensively, but tonight he established his confidence in attacking the rim while keeping Cleveland’s defense honest by hitting shots and making great passes.
The Pacers began to find some distance between them and the Cavs in the second quarter, pushing their lead to double figures with under four to go, leading by 10 at the break. The Pacers got there not only hitting shots, but by getting out in transition. The Pacers forced nine turnovers in the first half, leading to 18 points. Again, they were led by Oladipo, who had four steals.
Indiana avoided another third quarter collapse, opening up and putting their foot down on the Cavs’ throat. The Pacers pushed their lead to 20, then proceeded to match wits with the Cavs as they again got hot, hitting four straight threes. There wasn’t a single shot in that stretch that the Pacers didn’t respond allowing them to ride the momentum to a 25-point lead into the fourth.
LeBron James didn’t step foot on the floor in the fourth quarter as the Pacers expanded their lead, wrapping up the impressive 121-87 victory. This was the kind of performance Indiana has been looking for since Game 1, a performance where they played comfortable and played like the team that got them to that point. No missed opportunities, no late whistles, no game winners, just a well-rounded effort. It was Pacers basketball.
The Pacers shot 56% from the floor, including 15-30 from three point range. They outrebounded Cleveland by 11, forced 15 turnovers to their seven, and absolutely capitalized on the turnovers, outscoring the Cavs 29-6. The turnovers opened up the transition game, leading to 35 fast break points and the Pacers dominated the paint, winning 58-32. They also scored 12 points off of eight offensive rebounds.
There were seven double figure scorers led by Oladipo, who had a game high 28 points with six threes, completing a 13 rebound and 10 assist triple double, becoming the third Pacer in the postseason to do so. His 10 assists went to seven different Pacers and the team converted on three of Oladipo’s four steals.
He also lifted the team with highlights galore, even though his misses were more impressive.
If Oladipo was the catalyst for the Pacers, Lance Stephenson was the spark. Stephenson was fantastic off the bench, scoring 12 with six assists, but continuing to work against LeBron James, who looked his least engaged since Game 1. Stephenson was successful in his gamesmanship against James, drawing fouls and dancing throughout the game.
LANCE VS. LEBRON FOREVER pic.twitter.com/bGgVwvmxOB— Wobsell Perezbrook (@World_Wide_Wob) April 28, 2018
Even his night wasn’t the highlight off the bench with Domantas Sabonis continuing his fantastic play in the last three games with a 19 point night on 9-11 shooting. He had 13 in the second half, all coming in the final 12:05 to ensure there was no Cavs comeback. Sabonis was joined up front from a 12-point night from Myles Turner. The two did nearly all of their damage in the paint, including a three from Turner.
Bojan Bogdanovic struggled shooting, but made a big impact in terms of helping push the lead heading into the break. He had 10 points on 4-12 shooting, but his first bucket pushed the lead to double figures at halftime and he helped Indiana withstand Cleveland’s four straight three stretch with his first.
Darren Collison had two of his own in that stretch, looking the most comfortable he’s looked all series, scoring 15 points on 6-9 shooting, including 3-4 from deep. Thaddeus Young finished with 10 as well, going 4-6, forcing two of James’s four turnovers, joining Cory Joseph with a pair of steals, Joseph helping to wrap up garbage time with nine.
The overall performance was exactly what the Pacers needed as they head into the final game of this series. No doubt Game 7 will be similar to Game 2 in what James will bring, but Indiana can use tonight’s game to show just what they can do in terms of getting stops around him and how to play with the freedom they’ve shown.
James was one of just three double figure scorers for the Cavs, scoring 22 himself and joined by Jeff Green with 13, who hit three of his six three pointers. The Pacers did a good job on Kyle Korver after he got off a couple early, holding him scoreless in the final 44 minutes of the game.
This was one of the worst losses in James’s postseason career, but the Pacers have to remain focused as James has emerged victorious in three of those four series. In fact, James has never lost a series leading 3-2, but the Pacers have forced James into a number of situations he’s never faced this early in the postseason.
The Pacers will have a real opportunity to extend their postseason on Sunday if they play their game. That will be key in the face of what will no doubt be another great performance from James, but whether anyone on the Cavs can run with him and how comfortable the Pacers play will be big swings in just how this series will be remembered.