Published On: Thu, Apr 19th, 2018

Cavs have reason to worry despite winning Game 2

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The Cleveland Cavaliers came out with the requisite urgency Wednesday night, when a tremendous start carried them to a series-leveling win over the Indiana Pacers.

With a new starting lineup that surrounded him with four shooters, LeBron James was a house afire from the opening tip, outscoring the Pacers 16-1 in the first five minutes of the game on his way to a 46-point, 12-rebound, five-assist masterpiece. The Cavs improved significantly on their frigid 3-point shooting from Game 1, going 11-of-28 (39.3 percent) from deep and outscoring the Pacers by 15 points from beyond the arc.

And yet, many of the same issues that plagued the Cavs in their ugly Game 1 loss reared their heads again, and Victor Oladipo ultimately wound up getting a clean look at a game-tying three in the final 30 seconds. Cleveland shouldn’t feel especially comfortable with where things stand as the series swings to Indianapolis.

The biggest concern for the Cavs, by far, is that they continue to have no semblance of an answer for Oladipo. The Pacers’ lightning-quick guard once again torched them at the point of attack, in the open floor, and at the rim, reminding Cleveland that it simply doesn’t have anyone with the speed to hang with him.

When he operated in isolation, Oladipo pulled the ball out to about the logo, sized up whoever was guarding him, pondered all the ways he might go about embarrassing that person, and then promptly left them in his dust. Whether it was a guard like J.R. Smith or George Hill playing him straight up, or a big like Larry Nance or Kevin Love or Jeff Green switched onto him, or even the rare time LeBron took the assignment, Oladipo burned them off the bounce. When the Cavs brought two men to the ball, he got it moving in a hurry to trigger fruitful man-advantage situations.

They had no good counters when the Pacers ran a high pick-and-roll. When they dropped their bigs back, Oladipo zoomed by them. When they tried to trap, he strung them out, or else revved up his drive before the trap arrived and veered away from the screen. Whatever the Cavs did, they could not keep Oladipo out of the lane. And, once he was there, the Cavs – as has been their scourge all season – had no interior defense to deter him.

Nor was it just Oladipo making hay close to the hoop. Myles Turner ate when he was able to muscle his way into deep post position. Thaddeus Young slipped through seams and scavenged for his patented garbage buckets. Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Lance Stephenson all plunged into the teeth of the defense for driving layups. The Pacers outscored the Cavs 62-30 in the paint, and shot a ridiculous 29-of-34 (85.3 percent) at the rim.

The Cavs survived in large part because the Pacers bonked a ton of open jump shots, most of which were created off all that dribble penetration from Oladipo. They hit just 27 percent of their shots outside the restricted area, and went 6-of-22 from 3-point range. One of those misses was Oladipo’s aforementioned potential game-tying look, which opened up after Smith and Kyle Korver completely botched their pick-and-roll coverage.

Cleveland was also fortunate that Oladipo picked up two fouls just 62 seconds into the game, and that Pacers coach Nate McMillan decided to sit him for all but nine minutes of the first half, succumbing to the logical fallacy that the fourth quarter is more valuable than the first. Oladipo wound up playing just 28 minutes due to the “foul trouble” that saw him finish with three personals. The Pacers outscored the Cavs by 11 points in those 28 minutes.

Certainly, there were positive indicators for Cleveland. LeBron reminded the Pacers that when a game merits his attention, there is literally nothing they can do to stop him. The rejiggered starting lineup, which slotted Korver and Smith in for Green and Rodney Hood, worked beautifully for stretches. The Pacers were particularly helpless to defend actions in which James screened for Korver. Basically every Cavalier outside those two was lousy on Wednesday night, and that likely won’t happen again. Neither will George Hill fouling out in 20 minutes, leaving Jordan Clarkson and Jose Calderon overexposed. And ultimately, Indiana having no answer for James is a bigger problem than Cleveland having no answer for Oladipo.

And yet, the Cavs don’t feel like they’re in control of this series, at least not yet. Red flags still abound for a team that looks as vulnerable as any LeBron-led outfit since his first-generation Cavs. Having swiped homecourt advantage, and having very nearly climbed out of an 18-point hole and survived a 46-piece special from James in Game 2, the Pacers have every reason to be bursting with confidence as they head back to their own barn.

By virtue of employing the best player in the world, the Cavs remain the heavy favorites. But this plucky Indiana team has given them cause for concern.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

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