Vic was Vic, Pacers demolish Cavs to force Game 7

Victor Oladipo, Pacers, 2018 NBA Playoffs, Cleveland Cavaliers

Victor Oladipo was out of the shower and making his way to his locker stall when you knew exactly how he was feeling. The Bose speaker was turned up and he was jamming, just like he does after most game.

Dressing in bottoms with the laughing emoji (😂), perhaps symbolic of those discussing his recent struggles, Oladipo would soon go to the podium to address the media and fans worldwide after turning in his best game of the series.

“He was just being himself – making plays, scoring the ball, getting rid of it when he had to. He was just being Vic,” was how veteran Trevor Booker described Oladipo’s night.

The Pacers needed something special from their star and he delivered the franchise’s third triple-double in history: 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Mark Jackson, who was courtside calling the game for ESPN had one in 1998, and Paul George in 2013.

“That’s what we need from him,” said Lance Stephenson. “He played the smart plays when they trapped him, he was in attack-mode when they didn’t trap him. When he’s playing like that, finding people and making the right plays every possession, they’re in trouble.

Oladipo’s game-high 28 points, complemented by six teammates in double figures propelled the Pacers past the Cavs handedly, 121-87. The 34-point win is the largest in Pacers franchise history and two points shy of the worst postseason lost in Cavaliers history.

“He remained aggressive and whenever he is playing that way offensively, it really opens up a lot for the rest of our guys,” Nate McMillan said.

The victory evened the series at three games apiece, which sets up a Game 7 – Sunday at 1:00 pm ET on ABC.

“Game seven: I think it’s the two greatest words in sports,” said LeBron James, who was the only Cleveland player to do anything of relevance. 22 points, seven assists, five rebounds, but four turnovers.

And he didn’t play a minute in the final stanza because the game was already well in hand at that point, 92-67 after the Pacers outscored them by 15 in the third. They didn’t let their foot off the gas or get too comfortable with a big lead, as has been the case this season. They opened the half on a 14-4 run and the game wasn’t close after that.

“It’s do or die for us and we came out with a sense of urgency,” McMillan said. “I thought we did a good job of establishing the pace tonight, as well as the tempo. Defensively, we were much more aggressive pressuring the ball and keeping the ball in front of us, and not allowing them to get to the basket.”

It was immediately clear that the Pacers wanted to establish the tempo and run, so they did at every opportunity. They piled up 35 fast break points to the Cavaliers’ 12, dominated the glass (44-33), and limited their own turnovers to seven, only two in the second half.

The message in the Pacers’ locker room was simple. “Win. Win. Win,” Thad Young repeated. “Do what it takes to win. Whether it’s giving up your body or laying a guy out going through the lane – anything. Anything it takes to win and I think we put it all on the line tonight.”

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were consistently careless with the ball, to the tune of 15 turnovers. Even worse, the Pacers made them feel almost every one of them by converting those into 29 points.

“We were able to convert off the turnovers that we were creating and the bad shots that we were forcing them to take,” Thad Young said. “If we get locked in like that, it’s hard to stop as a team because we are all connected together and we are all playing together.

“We knew we were playing for our playoff lives. It’s not over yet, and now we have to win another one.”

Lance Stephenson, Pacers, 2018 NBA Playoffs, Cleveland Cavaliers

Stephenson played 27 minutes off the bench in the win.

Stephenson, who had 12 points and six assists, entertained the crowd with his play on the court and his dance moves that followed. He also had several run-ins with LeBron, who got annoyed, lightly pushed him, and was whistled for the foul. Stephenson says you can’t play The Best Player In The World like anyone else, and he’s never been intimidated by him.

“When you’re playing against a guy like that, you got to give it your all,” he said. “Our back was on the line and I was going to leave it on the floor tonight.

“Tonight we played excellent. This was probably the most complete game that we’ve played. We got the lead and they never got back into a groove. And we fed off their mistakes.”

Back to Oladipo, whose brilliant performance in 35 minutes followed three tough games shooting the ball. Entering Game 6 on Friday, Oladipo had gone 12 for 50 from the field, including 5 for 23 from beyond the arc. Well below his averages in his career-setting season.

He has never faced the level of defensive pressure or focus as he as this season. It’s all very new to him, and began in February after spending All-Star weekend … as an All-Star in Los Angeles.

“Did everything with confidence, didn’t overthink it, just played. Read and react,” he shared afterwards.

Co-captain Thad Young said he could sense a special performance like this coming from his teammate.

“Man I’ve been telling guys he’s been due for a big game, especially being in a slump like that. You can’t play bad forever. I knew he was going to step up to the plate when it was time. That was huge for us.”

Victor Oladipo, Pacers, 2018 NBA Playoffs

Oladipo finishes with a reverse jam. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Oladipo never doubts himself. Not anymore anyway. That’s been part of his change in mindset over the last few years, and especially this year. He’s relentlessly positive to the point where it rubs off on his teammates.

Veteran point guard Darren Collison offered up perspective:

“In the playoffs, guys are going to struggle. It’s not going to be as easy as it was in the regular season, where he could just come in and do whatever he wants. If you want the playoffs, every superstar, star, role player has struggled. The biggest thing is you can’t just lose confidence. And I thought, with our team, we don’t ever lose confidence.

“We are always positive with each other, we feel like the next game is going to be a good game, and I thought tonight was our first complete game of the series.”

The Pacers have proven that they are the better team all series long. They’ve lost three games by a combined 10 points. They just stomped the Cavaliers by 34 Friday, and by 18 in Game 1.

What it’ll come down to keeping LeBron for going off for 40-plus points, minimizing their mistakes, and capitalizing off of Cleveland’s faults. They also need a big night from at least one player. Maybe it’s Oladipo, maybe it’s Bojan Bogdanovic, maybe it’s Domantas Sabonis, who has quietly turned in an outstanding series in just his second season. (He has averaged 20 points and 5.6 rebounds per game over the last three.)

One thing this team doesn’t lack is confidence. If they did, they wouldn’t be here in the first place because they have been doubted since June 30.

Before Game 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, McMillan’s challenged his guys by asking them “How bad do we want it?”

“This was going to show, I thought, our character. And I thought these guys responded to all the things we had on the board about this game tonight, wanting to go back [to Cleveland]. We’ve never talked about losing. We talked about winning.

“They answered that with the way they played.”

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL