2018 Pacers Playoffs: Six Takeaways from Games 1 and 2

NBA Playoffs

All even at one game apiece, the Pacers and Cavaliers first-round series shifts to Indianapolis for games three and four.

Game 3 is on Friday at 7:00 pm (FSI, ESPN), and Game 4 is a late one, on Sunday tipping after 8:30 pm (FSI, TNT).

Here are six takeaways from the first two games in Cleveland.

Pacers Are The Better Team

This is a fair conclusion, and is not unexpected. The reason most league observers, however, picked the Cavaliers is because of their leader, LeBron James. He’s been here and always won. He entered the series with seven straight NBA Finals appearances and 21 consecutive Round 1 wins, including five sweeps in a row.

That’s dominance.

But this is a very different team. We saw coach Ty Lue go back to his old faithfuls, in starting Kyle Korver and JR Smith over newcomers Rodney Hood and Jeff Green in Game 2. Tristran Thompson has played a grand total of 1:59 of a possible 96 minutes. Neither Kevin Love nor George Hill are fully healthy.

The Pacers brought back just six players from last year’s bunch that was swept by the Cavaliers in the first round, but they are clearly the more tied together group.

They have an edge, and they aren’t afraid. They have been eager for this moment on the national stage for quite some time.

LeBron Needs Somebody, Anybody

In the Cavaliers’ Game 2 win, LeBron scored 46 points of their 100 points. He grabbed 12 of their 30 rebounds. He accounted for five of 15 assists. He made 17 of their 37 field goals. He made 10 of their 15 foul shots. And yet the Pacers had a chance to force overtime in the final seconds. Three-point Cavs win.

If Cleveland wins this series, it’s because LeBron got help. He’s the best player in the world, but he can’t beat the Pacers with little contributions elsewhere.

He got one, but can he win three more?

Love, who suffered a left thumb injury but is good to go Friday, is in a new spot as the second option. It’s new because he was always the third guy in Cleveland, previously behind Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. Then, they need a couple of their shooters to go off. JR Smith, Kyle Korver, even George Hill. Something.

This is a brand new stage for guys like Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson. All three players are 25, and it’s the first playoff games for the latter two.

Pacers, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Cleveland Cavaliers

Pacers holding a gold-out for Game 3.

Oladipo is Comfortable

This is mostly a new arena for Victor Oladipo, too. And it’s an entirely new role. He got his first taste of postseason basketball last year in Oklahoma City as an underutilized option for MVP Russell Westbrook. He averaged 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

This year with the Pacers, he is The Guy. He ripped off 32 points in their Game 1 road win, and he was left with a wide-open 3-pointer, thanks to poor defensive communication, but he missed it. He didn’t pout, slap the scorer’s table, or mumble his way through his press conference.


“Got a clean look. I shot it and I just missed. Literally, I just missed. If I had that look again, I’d take it every time.”

He is an incredibly optimistic man by nature, but that is the right attitude. He loved the look, like the way it left his hand. He just missed. It happens. And he moved on.

Like he’s got his sweatpants on and Home Alone playing on his TV, he’s comfortable here.

He’s Also the Engine

When Oladipo went to the bench 62 seconds into Game 2 because of two quick fouls, it was like the Pacers’ switch had been turned off. They weren’t nearly as explosive, they lacked some spunk, and fell behind 18 points.

While Lance Stephenson may be the heartbeat of this team, Oladipo is the engine. Without one, you’re not going anywhere. No statistic backs this up like the Pacers going 0-6 in the regular season without him. (Yes, I’m excluding the regular season finale when they played end-of-bench guys.)

Knowing that, it’s imperative for Oladipo to remain out of foul trouble and on the floor. He’s not a foul-happy player, only fouling out once in his five years in this league. Foul trouble limited his on-court time in last game, and yet he still led the team with 22 points and six assists.

“They’re a well-coached team,” LeBon said before morning shootaroud. “They got some really good players on their floor, all of them complement each other. Obviously it starts with the head of the snake in Oladipo.”

The Cavs are trying trap Vic, sending to and three guys. If they move the ball quickly enough, teammates will be open.

Physical Game Favors Cleveland

The Pacers want to be the aggressors, they want to play physical … but they have to be careful. Lance already earned a technical foul for hitting LeBron in the head. Domantas Sabonis was issued a Flagrant-1 for a hard foul on LeBron, who made 10 of 13 foul shots in Game 2. He attempted — and made — more than the Pacers as a team.

What I wouldn’t mind seeing is the Pacers foul LeBron more often in the paint. He made 8-of-9 attempts last game. Too easy.

That said … Player availability is too important for the Pacers. They need Oladipo, need Turner, need Thad Young out on the floor. So while they want to play physical — it’s the playoffs after all — they have to be cognizant of their situation.

Better players typically get more calls, and the benefit of the doubt. I know Pacers fans have seen that with LeBron, who has fouled out just twice on four years. He’s also strategic. But Indiana can’t let itself get caught up in that game.

Need Points … From Outside

Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. The Cavaliers shot 38.5 percent, 23.5 percent from outside in Game 1 and lost. The Pacers scored 62 points in the paint but went 6 of 22 (27.3 percent) from outside in Game 2 and lost. They were outscored by 15 points from the arc and lost by just three.

In a league dictated by pace, space, and the long ball, the Pacers need to be on target. The Pacers were 26th in three-pointers attempted during the regular season at 24.5 per game. They made nine of them, on average. In comparison, the Cavaliers launched 32.1 threes per game, making 12 … and Houston led the league with 42.3 attempts per game.

The Pacers need Bojan Bogdanovic to be a reliable threat. He’s just 2 for 9 in the first two games, and part of that I attribute to his energy expending on the other end guarding LeBron better than most of his teammates. Getting bonus threes from Lance or Corey Joseph would help.

The gap between the Pacers and Cavaliers cannot be that wide, though.

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