The Cleveland Cavaliers did what they needed to Monday night. They handled their business and won another home game to open their first-round series against the Pacers.
That’s now 19 straight opening-round wins for the NBA team led by LeBron James. He is a monster to handle, and without question the top player in the league. On Monday, though, James (25) got help from Kyrie Irving, who scored a game-high 37, and Kevin Love (27 and 11).
For the second consecutive game, the Cavaliers shot 54 percent or better — 55.3 percent to be exact — as the Pacers’ defense was not nearly good enough. It was a combination of poor communication, bad switches, and giving 3-point shooters too much space. In this 117-111 Game 2 loss by the Pacers, they were outscored from distance by 15 points and it took until the fourth quarter for them to make a run.
But once again, by then they were playing catch up and came up short. As the series moves to Indianapolis for Game 3 on Thursday, the Cavaliers have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“We’re not doing anything aggressively right now,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said postgame.
They, too, made more than half of their shots (51.2 percent) led yet again by Paul George — who else? — with 32 points. It’s the fifth time over the last eight games that he’s topped 30. That’s why it wasn’t surprising when the Cavaliers altered their defensive schemes and double-teamed the Pacers’ star from the jump of Game 2.
“It’s very obvious that they want the ball out of my hands and they’re going to force other guys to beat them,” George said at the postgame press conference.
He also had eight rebounds and seven assists in 42 minutes. He’s been terrific in the series, knocking down dozens of contested shots and showing off a bounce in his step that seems a height above where he was before his 2014 leg injury.
— NBA (@NBA) April 17, 2017
But he can’t do this alone; he needs help. Jeff Teague scored 23 from the point guard spot, though he was minus-14 in the starting role against Irving. Thad Young, who is as steady as they come, managed 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. (He missed 4-of-6 foul shots). Myles Turner wasn’t his usual self, saying postgame that he’s got to slow down and have better composure. His first points didn’t come until after the halfway point of the third quarter.
“It’s nothing they’re doing, it’s all me,” Turner, who finished 3-of-10 from the floor with six points and five rebounds, told reporters. “I’ve got to slow down and keep my composure. Someone’s got to help PG. He’s being double-teamed and trapped, and we have to be able to be playmakers out of that.”
Teague landed awkwardly on his right hand early in the third quarter as Love slid over in hopes of drawing the change. It was a called a block and Teague, despite clutching his right hand with his left, went to the line and knocked down both free throws. He had it X-rayed after the game, but results weren’t immediately known.
Lance Stephenson has tried to be that guy, be an emotionally leader off the bench. A turning point in the game involved Stephenson in the third quarter when he was subbed in and instructed to defend Kevin Love. As you can imagine, with a five-inch difference, that didn’t go well. At all.
Love, a four-time All-Star, had his way in the post and ran off 10 straight points on his own. That surge gave Cleveland its largest lead of 19, 89-70.
At his locker, Stephenson took blame for not fronting Love but it felt like the wrong move at a bad time. Love is a versatile veteran who can take advantage of a mismatch, so that’s what he did. Once a counter-adjustment was made, Love contributed just four points the rest of the game.
Much like their 109-108 Game 1 loss last Saturday, the Pacers came back from a double-digit deficit and then did enough to hang around. George scored 10 of his 32 points in the final stanza.
The Pacers scored 10 unanswered to trim its deficit to five, 109-104, with 2:28 left. George then missed a pair of 3-point attempts, Turner had a layup blocked by James, and the Cavaliers hit their free throws to keep their distance.
The biggest area where Indiana had the advantage was on turnovers, 14 to the Cavs’ 19. James was responsible for eight and Young tallied six steals in the lost.
Indiana had its chance, a great chance on the road, to steal the first game of the series and make Cleveland, the reigning NBA Champions, question what they were doing. Again, they have James and are expected to make another trip to the Finals.
Larry Bird is not amused. pic.twitter.com/drqIk3KouM
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 18, 2017
If the Pacers want to put a dent in their plans, it must come Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It’s a Gold Out, which seems to only add to the electric playoff atmosphere.
In the meantime, the Pacers’ defense has to be addressed. Their communication on the floor, which has opened up the paint for numerous wide-open layups for the Cavaliers, has been troubling now 84 games in…
Again, it goes back to guys helping out George. There’s no reason not to expect more double-teams and that’s where George would like to see the big men flash and make themselves open. There might be a shot, or another pass that can then be made. George has been spectacular, but it takes multiple players to come up big for a team to advance.
And right now the Pacers can’t afford another loss to James & Co., who have seemingly found a grove and are ready to pounce on the opportunity.
Note: Glenn Robinson III played in his first game since March 26. He had missed the last dozen games due to a left calf strain suffered in practice. Coach McMillan said he wanted Robinson III to get out there for a few minutes. He ultimately played nine, and contributed four points and two rebounds off the bench.