The Pacers and Cavaliers tip off Game 2 in Cleveland tonight, and after Indiana went into the land of the burning river and smoked the Cavs 98-80 in Game 1, there are a lot of reasons for the Cavs to be in full-on pants-soiling terror mode.
O how do I love thee, Indiana, let me count the ways…
Problem 1: It Wasn’t LeBron James Who Had the Bad Game
LeBron wasn’t exactly a superhero in Game 1. He was 7-of-17. But he had a triple-double (24 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists), playing 44 minutes with a respectable if not great 107 Defensive Rating and a by-far team-best 114 Offensive Rating (Jeff Green, hilariously, was an 8), and even though he was minus-13 during those 44 minutes, he affected the game in a positive way for his team.
Unfortunately for him, the rest of the Cavs, with the possible exception of Kevin Love (9 points, 17 rebounds), were the Canton Charge.
Green was atrocious, as mentioned; he had zero points in 27 minutes and missed all seven of his shots. Cleveland as a whole put up 38.5/23.5/60 shooting numbers. And the Pacers figured out early that they could get pretty much whatever shot they wanted more or less at will against a team so wretched on defense that the only squad worse in the regular season was the Suns, who were 21-61 in posting the worst record in the entire league.
LeBron is on the worst team he’s been on since he took the 2007 Cavs to a Finals sweep at the hands of the Spurs. He didn’t have the bad game.
Problem 2: Indiana Wasn’t Even That Good Offensively
The Pacers, with the exception of Victor Oladipo, were mediocre-to-good depending on just who was shooting the ball.
Oladipo got his points (32 of them, on 11-of-19 shooting and 6-of-9 for three.)
But Bojan Bogdanovic was wretched (5-of-17 and just 1-of-6 for three), Darren Collison was a non-factor (2-of-9 shooting, six points), Lance Stephenson nearly shot the Pacers out of the game in the fourth quarter, earning himself a benching (but to be fair was 5-of-11 in getting his 12 points off the bench)…
The Pacers overall posted a 106.8 Offensive Rating in Game 1. That’s below league average, well short of Indiana’s 109.5 season average, and considering they got 98 points on a 106.8 OffRtg, well, let’s put it this way.
Indiana was 22nd in pace in 2017-18, befitting their status as a Nate McMillan-coached team; McMillan is well-known as one of the biggest snails in NBA coaching history, coaching one of the slowest teams of all time in Portland in the late aughts (relative to league pace, slower only than the mid-90s Cavs teams that aimed to turn basketball into baseball in terms of scoring.)
Cleveland was 12th in pace…but this game was played at a 91.8 overall pace, a speed so slow that it’s like the pedestrian moving faster than traffic on a surface-level highway.
Indiana played their game. They didn’t even have to play it well.
Problem 3: Myles Turner is a Mine Canary
When Turner shoots 6-of-9, pulls down eight rebounds, and posts a 90 DefRtg, that’s when you know you’re not generating any offense or rebounding in the low post.
Sure, Cleveland won the rebounding battle overall, grabbing 51.1 percent of the available boards, and Turner overall got solidly pounded on the glass by Love, but he wasn’t the total non-factor that he so often is against teams with quality rebounding big men (consider the Pistons and Clippers, who routinely eat Turner’s lunch when they play the Pacers.)
Indiana was the fifth-worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA in the regular season. If they’re pulling down 80 percent of the available defensive boards, which would’ve been good for third in the league behind the Hornets and Bulls, you have a problem, and Turner is the canary in that particular coal mine.
Cleveland is a coal seam fire.
Problem 4: J.R. Smith Won’t Bail You Out Again
Smith was 6-of-11 and 3-of-6 from three in Game 1. If you think he’s going to play that well for 29 minutes again at any point in this series, you’re out of your mind.
Total points scored: Zero.
Counting on Smith is lunacy, and it’s a sign Tyronn Lue might be in over his head against McMillan. Not since we watched Doc Rivers mismanage the Clippers this year have we seen a guy for whom “but he won a title” is so transparently about “well, no duh, he had the best players.”
Problem 5: Three Words: Bonkers. Life. Fieldhouse.
You think Pacers fans aren’t going to be insane for every home game? You get your faces kicked in when you’re on your home floor, you’re really in trouble when you’re in front of the other team’s fans.
Cleveland gave up home court to one of those teams you desperately want to avoid giving up home court to. The Pacers were 27-14 at home this year. Cleveland was 21-20 on the road. You do the math.
It’s beginning to look a lot like those Pacers-in-six predictions have a lot of merit. And if the Cavs don’t figure things out quick in Game 2, well…LeBron’s not going to get swept, nor are the Cavs going to lose three at home, but it’ll make that Game 6 in Indiana all but a foregone conclusion.