Pacers playing for pride, determined to avoid a sweep

Game 4 is Sunday at 1:00pm ET.

The Pacers are aware of what is at stake Sunday. It’s simple: Win, or stay home.

After three great battles in this first-round series, the Pacers must win on Sunday in Indianapolis to keep their season alive against the Cleveland Cavaliers. All three games have been close, decided by a total of 12 points.

Game 3 on Thursday night still does not sit well with the team. It’s something they wont’t forget about anytime soon. They led by as many as 26 points, were up 25 at halftime, and were outscored 70-40 by the reigning champions in a loss.

The Cavaliers enter Sunday’s matinee with a 3-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

“It happened so fast,” guard Lance Stephenson was saying shortly after the loss. “They was just making the right plays. Every possession they were taking a high percentage shot. … We just didn’t respond.”

Indiana didn’t come to fight in the second half. The Cavaliers, who didn’t overreact to their large deficit, played fast, attacked the Pacers, and knocked down open shots. They shot 55 percent in the second half. The Pacers, meanwhile, didn’t get stops, didn’t force even a single turnover, and were slow to get into their offense.

“It broke us apart on the defensive end,” Stephenson added.

LISTEN: Podcast breakding down the series with Jason Smeathers

The Pacers practiced on Friday and Saturday. The mood on Friday, less than 24 hours after the loss, was unusually quiet. “Silent” is how Myles Turner described it. Still in shock? Perhaps. Frustrated? Absolutely.

“It’s weighing on me today, it’s going to weigh on me tomorrow, probably up until Sunday,” Paul George said on Friday.

The Pacers have made several tweaks, none that Coach McMillan would share of course. He started C.J. Miles over Monta Ellis in Game 3. The big change in the series was made by the Cavs over the final 14 minutes. Moving All-Star Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the bench, Cavaliers coach Ty Lue played a small lineup that would challenge the Golden State Warriors if they met for the third straight year in the Finals.

“The big thing is trying to keep the ball in front of you,” McMillan said. “It starts with that and it starts in transition. When they are going downhill and we have breakdowns on the ball and we have to give help, that is leading to 3-point shots.”

With Game 3 in the rear-view mirror and battle number four ahead of them, veteran Thad Young says it’s not nerve-wracking. Many of them have played in deceive playoff games.

“Offensively, we slowed the ball down. Defensively, we had a few reads that we should not have done and they got corner 3s out of it. They shot 14-for-16 from corner 3s for the game.”

Both teams’ game day routine must be altered. With the game scheduled to tip-off on ABC shortly after 1:00 pm ET, the Pacers watched more film on Saturday and then held a practice that was similar to a shootaround, going through the new material and possible tweaks. (Mark Jones, Hubie Brown, Israel Gutierrez will have the call.)

Rows of jersey towels were put over all 17,923 seats on Friday.

All fans on hand at Bankers Life Fieldhouse will receive a jersey towel with ’17’ as the number.

History is not on Indiana’s side. No team has ever come back when trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven series. 0-121, according to ESPN Stats & Info, with 60 percent of them ending in sweeps.

Several Pacers shared how they are determined not to let that happen. They want to extend the series and prevent the brooms from coming out.

“We playing for pride now,” said Jeff Teague, who had 15 points and seven assists in Game 3. “We’re all competitors in here and we all believe in one another. We ain’t getting swept.”

Added George: “We got to treat it as our Game 7, and we have to look at the series as four Game 7s ahead of us. But we have to do it one game at a time.

“We got to go out with a fight, we got to go out swinging. The good thing for us, we’ve been great when facing this kind of adversity and this kind of pressure of having to win to stay alive. Hopefully we can learn from how we ended the season.”

And Stephenson: “It’s about pride. I’ve never been swept in the playoffs and I don’t want to get swept.”

C.J. Miles put it best, as he typically does: “Do you want to go home or not? That’s the mentality. That’s how you get over it. Do you want to keep playing? That’s pretty much the only thing you can take into the next game.”

The Cavaliers have not lost to the Pacers this season when LeBron James has played. He’s the best player in the world and should annually be named the NBA’s MVP. For the series, he has averaged 32.7 points, 10.7 assists, and 9.7 rebounds in over 43 minutes per game.

The Pacers narrowly made it into the eight-team playoff field in the Eastern Conference, having to win their final five regular-season games to qualify. Stephenson provide the energy and the necessary spark. In a win-or-go-fishing scenario, the Pacers’ team chemistry and character will be revealed.

“Sunday’s game will be a test of our character,” said McMillan. “It just comes down to that, who’ll show up and fight to win a game, and try to extend this series. … We have to start well and finish well. That’s the key.”

George, who had success fishing Friday afternoon, has been outstanding since March, taking his game to a new level. Likely to spend the majority of the game trying to limit James’ contributions — a nearly impossible task — the Pacers’ star will need all the help he can get. The Pacers don’t have to play flawless, but they cannot yield substantial runs. They’re expecting the Cavaliers looking to come out firing and to put this game to bed.

“It would be a huge disappointment to this fan base, huge disappointment to this team and this organization,” franchise player Paul George said of how he would react to getting swept. “Especially knowing the circumstances that we should be up 3-0. To fold on Game 4 on our floor, it’ll be a setback for many, many things.”

[Lakers’ Magic Johnson sends strong message to George; of course that’s tampering]

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