McMillan: Pacers not connected, played frantic in Game 4 loss

Victor Oladipo, Cleveland Cavaliers, Pacers, 2018 NBA Playoffs

Game 4 followed what has become a familiar script for the Pacers. Fall behind by double digits but then fight like crazy and string together stops to take back the lead, only this time they didn’t execute when they needed to late into Sunday evening.

The Cavaliers outscored the Pacers 15-8 over the final 6:12, a stretch that featured two three-pointers and a pair of foul shots from Kyle Korver. The four-point Cavaliers win, 104-100, evens the series at two games apiece with the series shifting back to Cleveland for Game 5 on Wednesday. It’s the third consecutive game decided by four points or less.

Like in Game 1, the game opened with a Myles Turner jumper. They led 3-2 after a free throw from Thad Young, but didn’t lead again until the fourth quarter, when Domantas Sabonis’ only three-point attempt of the evening went down. Sabonis, one of seven Pacers in double figures, led the Pacers with a playoff career-high 19 points and six rebounds off the bench.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan was not pleased with his team’s performance all game. That’s a rare occurrence, even though just six players were back from last season and the starting lineup includes three new pieces. He felt that they were disjointed and tried to do things on their own far too often.

“This group has played the game the right way [most of the season],” he said. “Sometimes you get in these games like this, emotional games, and you’re so pumped up that sometimes you try to do some things by yourself — and a lot of times it doesn’t work.

“We need to be connected. You play that game together and you play for each other. I didn’t think we were connected out there tonight.”

The Pacers allowed 30 points in both the first and second quarters by the Cavaliers, who have are averaging 93.5 points per game in this season. That’s 60 first-half points right there, including 23 from LeBron James.

“Again, another similar start to this game as the last two games. Not getting stops, thought we was frantic offensively throughout the game and I just didn’t think we played the game the right way,” McMillan said, with frantic being an interesting description for how they played.

While they presented a balanced attacked, several players tried to battle shooting woes. Like Victor Oladipo, who missed 15 of his 20 shots attempted. He still managed 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists, but many of his shots felt forced. He was 2 for 8 in the final quarter.

Just as they had in the two previous games, the Pacers went into the locker room frustrated and down by at least 10 points.

“We just have to find a better way to get ahead and get that lead at halftime,” said veteran Trevor Booker. “They’re doing a good job of coming out being aggressive. We just need to do the same thing. We’ve been in that situation many times. We just need better starts.”

McMillan has preached to his teams over the last several weeks, and to us media less than two hours before the game, how it was critically important to get off to a better start. But they didn’t.

They turned it over just nine times in all, but seven came in the first half and were converted into 17 points. That’s efficient basketball by the Cavs. All season long coach McMillan has stressed the three Cs: Cool, calm, and connected. For one of the few things this season, he felt those attributes were missing.

“I thought there was some quick shots, some heroic shots that were taken throughout this game and you’re not going to win if you play the game like that,” he said.

Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James, 2018 NBA Playoffs

LeBron James had 32 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists in the Cavs’ Game 4 win.

Lance Stephenson provided a jolt off the bench, but too often in Game 4 he teetered too far into Bad Lance. Like when the ball was inbounded and he took three steps before dribbling. Travel.

Or when he fought hard against LeBron, tied him up, then held the ball up like it was the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The Cavaliers called timeout with 6:13 left, trailing by two. Stephenson was breathing on LeBron, who sent him away with a light shove. Stephenson sold it and LeBron was issued just his sixth technical foul of the season by official Pat Fraher.

“I should know better,” LeBron said afterwards with a big grin. “I’ve been dealing with this since elementary [school]. It’s like I tell you a joke and then you laugh and you get caught. That’s what happened. [laughs in the room]

“Lance told me a joke, I laugh, teacher caught me, now I have to go see the principal. That’s what happened.”

Oladipo made the technical foul shot that made it 92-89. The Cavaliers replaced Clarkson with Kyle Korver, who buried to three-pointers two minutes later. They scored seven unanswered and took the lead for good.

“He’s pulling as soon as he comes off the screen,” Thad Young (12 points, 16 rebounds) said of Korver. They were once teammates in Philadelphia. “He just needs a split second. He’s done this for years in this league.”

The Pacers missed 10 of their next 11 shots, and too many of them were isolation plays and early into the shot clock. An Oladipo pull up from 20 feet, a fadeaway by Darren Collison, another pull up by Oladipo, then a missed Myles Turner three-pointer.

They were all trying to do it on their own.

“We probably could have gotten better shots but it’s easier said than done,” says steady veteran Darren Collison. He, too, struggled shooting (5 for 14) but contributed eight assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers in 32 minutes. “… That’s a big part of winning games, is that last minutes. We’ll be fine.”

Then, as the Pacers still had a glimmer of hope, Stephenson tied up Jeff Green and they landed on the ground together. One official signaled for a jump ball, but he was overruled by crew chief Ken Maur. After review, Stephenson was issued a foul, which didn’t please Pacers fans. It looked like two competitors wanting the ball in a key late-game situation.

“It could’ve been very close to a flagrant,” the officials told McMillan. “They decided to call it a foul, but it was close to a flagrant that Green was grabbed and thrown to the floor.”

Lance’s good plays far outweigh the negative, and his teammates support him completely.

“Lance is Lance. He’s done some very good things for us, he’s played well this series,” said Collison. “He’s competing. That’s one thing you have to respect about Lance, he’s competing. We got his back, regardless of what he’s doing. He’s not doing anything that’s hurting us as a team, he’s actually helping us every single game.

Cleveland Cavaliers, 2018 NBA Playoffs, LeBron James

LeBron and the Cavs arrived for Game 4 in the same suit and tie.

The Cavaliers arrived to Bankers Life Fieldhouse Sunday all dressed as one, in the second of three Thom Browne suits LeBron got for them. This time, they got the last laugh, and hope that it’s a building block for a longer postseason run.

After the loss, as Pacers star Oladipo waited his turn at the podium, he looked over video of the game quickly loaded onto his iPad by head video coordinator Tim Dather. He does it after every game. This was the first time, however, that I can recall Oladipo going to his iPad so soon after a game. He wouldn’t reveal what specifically he looked at, only that it was a few game highlights.

There are now two days between games, which bodes well for LeBron. He played more than 46 minutes, including the entire second half, and could use the extra day off more than anybody in the league. The Pacers will take the day off, but “off” is used lightly. Every game will be through their practice facility for film, treatment, and on-court work for the guys out of the rotation.

Then, a light practice will be held Tuesday before their flight to Cleveland. Game 5 will be at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, and then they’ll return to Indy for Game 6 Friday night.

“It’s going to be another tough game, but there’s nothing that we can’t handle,” said a confident Oladipo.

Of Note…

  • The game was the team’s 16th sellout of the season (17,923). All fans received gold rally towels.
  • In the stands: PGA Tour Pro Justin Thomas, Andrew Luck, Robert Mathis, Brian Cardinal, Fred Jones, Ben Hansbrough.

Watch Nate McMillan’s full press conference below (via Pacers on YouTube):

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