The Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers have split their first-round playoff series over four games, each team winning one on the other team’s floor in addition to their own.
What’s more, three of the four games have been nail-biters; the only game decided by more than four points was that 98-80 Indiana win in Game 1.
Pacers fans are hoping for that Pacers-in-six narrative to hold up, but if that was going to be the case, it was probably going to be a case of Indiana opening up a 3-1 lead, losing in Cleveland, then closing it out at home. To get there from 2-2, winning two games on the Cavs’ home floor? That’s a whole different animal.
But there are still plenty of things going for the Pacers in this series that suggest they might just be able to pull it off…
LeBron James Is Still the Cavs’ Only Reliable Player
Can LeBron win a series by himself? Well, no. We saw that in Game 1 when LeBron’s triple-double wasn’t anywhere near enough to overcome the Pacers’ determined attack; when the GOAT gets zero support from his team, they lose badly.
Along the same lines, in Game 2, LeBron had 46 points in a game his team won by just one possession.
Simply put, in half the games in this series, there was one player on Cleveland who was any good at all. You simply don’t win games that way, not consistently, so if the Pacers can continue to force LeBron to beat them by himself, they can take Game 5 and bring this one home.
We Still Haven’t Seen the Pacers’ Best
Likewise, in no game this series have multiple Pacers managed to be at their very best at the same time. When Myles Turner or Bojan Bogdanovic or Victor Oladipo play well, the other two out of those three guys tend to play poorly.
Even in Game 1, there was the sense that while the team put up a great effort on defense, the offense simply wasn’t quite up to its usual standard; even in a slowdown game (more on this in a minute), the team didn’t put up an offensive rating that suggested they were firing on all eight cylinders.
Even though time is running short, there’s a lot of “the best is yet to come” in this team that might just show itself come Game 5.
The Slowdown Game Favors Indiana
Nate McMillan is a slowdown coach. It’s just his DNA as a leader. We saw it in Seattle, we saw it in Portland, we’re seeing it in Indiana.
Cleveland, on the other hand, wants to run. They want to play up-tempo, hit rapid-fire transition three-pointers, push the pace of the game.
With the series averaging a snail-like 91.0 possessions per 48 minutes, it’s a sign that Tyronn Lue, who is by a gigantic margin the inferior coach, can’t get his team to impose their brand of basketball.
And the team that controls the tempo often controls the score; once again, three of these four games have been decided by four or less. It’s the Pacers’ series to lose.
And Let’s Just Say This Again…
Tyronn Lue coached the Cavs to a championship, but all that means is that he had LeBron, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving peaking at the right time. That does not mean Lue is a good coach. In fact, the Cavs have so savagely underachieved over the past two regular seasons that it’s plain as day that LeBron is the real brains behind this operation.
Meanwhile, Nate McMillan just got a 48-win season out of a squad of guys who weren’t supposed to win more than 30, he’s devised an offense that gets the best looks for the best shooters at the best times, and defense—which is the surest function of a coach’s ability to lead—favors the Pacers by leaps and bounds.
So Just One Question Remains…
Has LeBron already won the two games he’s going to win by himself with his play? Or is he truly going to win the series by his lonesome because he’s just that good?
Because the Pacers are the better team. If it were down purely to that, they’d take this series in six like they’re supposed to.
I suppose we’re all going to find out after Game 5.