The Pacers were riding high as they went back to the locker room for intermission. They had poured in 74 points, a franchise playoff record for points in a half, shot 56.8 percent and leading by 25 points. And, they had held the reigning NBA champions to below 37 percent shooting.
Bankers Life Fieldhouse was electric Thursday night for Game 3 of this first-round matchup. The majority of the sellout crowd (17,923) which included Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton of the Colts, however, not only likely went home disappointed but also feeling sick to their stomachs.
This Pacers team that narrowly qualified for postseason play, that was a game-winning shot away in Game 1 on the road, and that lost by just six in Game 2, well … they laid in egg. You think this stings now? It may take a while for players and fans alike to move on from.
Led by the greatest player in the world, LeBron James, the Cavaliers came storming back. James had a hand in 73 points (scored or assisted), a new personal high for the three-time champion in playoff history, ESPN Stats & Info says.
The Cavaliers opened the second half on a 10-3 run en route to a 119-114 win. They outscored the Pacers 70-40 over the final 24 minutes for the the win, the largest halftime deficit overcome in NBA playoff history.
“It sucks,” said Pacers point guard Jeff Teague, who had 15 points and seven assists in the loss. “We should’ve won this game. Played so well in the first half and we just let it slip in the second half.”
The atmosphere was special and the Pacers rose to the occasion for the first two quarters. They were in a groove. Kevin Seraphin had nine points in the first quarter, Paul George scored 21 of his team-high 36 in the second frame, and by halftime they were perfect at the foul line (14 for 14).
“It was effortless,” George said of their historic first half. “There was no thought process, everything was happening. We was just playing, we were feeding off the crowd, we were feeding off one another’s energy. It was natural and I thought that second half, once they put their head down and started to attack us, I thought we got away from that. That was really the game plan right there.”
“That first half we felt like a real team,” added Lance Stephenson, who contributed 13 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. “We was playing together, we was pushing the ball, we was making the right plays, we hitting open guys. We was having fun.”
See Also: VIDEO: Pacers react to Game 3 loss
But then the wheels fell off the wagon awfully quick.
“It happened so fast,” Stephenson continued. “They was just making the right plays. Every possession they were taking a high percentage shot. … We just didn’t respond.”
Pacers coach Nate McMillan made a change to the starting lineup, inserting C.J. Miles in place of Monta Ellis. Now Ellis played more than half of the regular season off the bench, starting in just 33 of 74 games. Miles is bigger and a better defender.
“You have to come out with the urgency to put a team away and not give them any life,” McMillan said of the second half. “You have the opportunity to be even more aggressive with a lead like we had. And I thought we came out [in the second half] kind of passive.
“I just didn’t think we established that killer instinct of keeping the pressure offensively and defensively, tightening up even more than we had in the first half. When they [the Cavaliers] did make a bucket, we were walking the ball down the floor.”
The Cavaliers, coached by second-year man Ty Lue, answered with several adjustments. Like moves James to the four. And generating more space on the floor to open up 3-point shooters.
“The biggest thing is we stopped getting stops, and the tempo changes completely,” said Miles.
The Cavaliers shot 55 percent in the second half and didn’t turn the ball over even once. Meanwhile, the Pacers struggled from field, going 13 of 51 (25.5 percent) and giving up more 3s (12) than they made (6).
“We got away from what the first half was about,” George said. “We did a great job of attacking early in the shot clock … and exploring early. I thought we slowed the pace down, slowed the game down, and that gives teams momentum.
“Here we are up 25 to start the second half and with the chance to put our foot on their throat, and we came relaxed. … I thought they had stretches where they were walking into 3-pointers, and we can’t do that.”
Starting center Myles Turner has yet to make serious contributions in this series. (He did have a highlight reel, end-of-season video slam on Tristan Thompson, but that was it.) With six points (3 for 12) and five rebounds in 31 minutes, Turner was quiet and this team desperately needs more out of him.
Prior to Game 3, McMillan was saying “We have to be more physical in the playoffs and in the paint. And that’s not just Myles.”Yet…
“They was on the ropes and we ain’t fight, man,” Stephenson said. “They came out swinging and we didn’t respond. We just gave in.”
And they did it with stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the bench. They each scored 13, and weren’t needed in the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers were plus-12. The Pacers got to within four points with 39.3 seconds left and made it a one-possession game after a Miles 3-pointer with 15.7 seconds on the clock.
By then it was too late. Comeback complete. 119-114, the Cavs prevailed.
“They made a run and they showed why they are the defending champs,” said Thad Young, who posted his fourth career double-double in the playoffs (11 points, playoff-high 14 rebounds).
So now the odds are against the Pacers. LeBron-led teams have won 20 consecutive opening round games. According to ESPN Stats & Info, no team has ever come back from a 3-0 hole in a best-of-seven series. There have been 121 occurrences and 60 percent (73) of them resulted in sweeps.
“We playing for pride now,” Teague said in response to how they move on from a loss like this. “We’re all competitors in here and we all believe in one another. We ain’t getting swept.”