TNT’s Kenny Smith believes the Indiana Pacers have certain advantages against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Through two games, he is absolutely right.
The series is tied at 1-1, but by virtue of taking Game 1 on the road, the Indiana Pacers are in good shape heading into Game 3. If Indiana manages to protect their homecourt advantage now, they’d only need to win one of the last three games to knock off the Cavaliers.
For those outside of the Pacers orbit, the idea of this series going 6 or 7 games comes as a shock. But for those watching Indiana with a close eye, this isn’t nearly as surprising.
The Pacers are doing this because they aren’t woefully overmatched by the Cavaliers. Cleveland has LeBron, but Indiana is matched up very well with the Cavaliers.
After Game 2, TNT’s Ernie Johnson asked the Inside the NBA crew if the series would go seven games. While only Shaq starter to answer (with 6), Kenny Smith pointed out the Pacers have “certain advantages” against the Cavaliers.
And what are those certain advantages?
The Pacers can outwit, outplay, and outrun the Cavaliers
Even in the loss, the Pacers blueprint for success was evident. Even though LeBron had one of the best playoff games of his career, there was a clear path to a win for Indiana.
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After LeBron’s 20-point outburst in the first quarter, the Pacers kept him in check, at least for LBJ’s standards. He scored another 26 points in the game, but Indiana outscored Cleveland 79-67 in the game’s final three frames.
It’s not a stretch at all to say the Pacers are the better team through two games. When it comes down to it, Indiana has only lost two quarters (that mattered) in this series. They let Cleveland back into the third quarter of Game 1. That one didn’t come back to haunt them.
However, in Game 2, losing the first quarter 33-18 ended up being too high of a hurdle to clear.
Part of the Pacers problem in the first quarter was Victor Oladipo’s foul trouble. Once he was out of the game, Indiana’s task of stopping LeBron was much harder.
Oladipo’s style on both ends of the floor opens up so many things for the Pacers as a whole, but first, let’s look at one of the things he can do himself.
Late in the game, he faced LeBron James one-on-one. So what did Oladipo do when one of the game’s best defenders locked on to him?
Retreat. And then, attack.
By backing out all the way to half court, Oladipo forced LeBron to at least honor the possibility of him taking a deep shot if he approached the 3-point line. But instead of messing around, Oladipo drove directly to the basket and James wasn’t able to keep up. LeBron looked for the block but Oladipo’s feathery shot was simply untouchable.
Oladipo’s speed is such an asset for Indiana in any phase of the game, but especially on defense and more specifically on fast breaks.
Indiana is outscoring Cleveland 33-18 in the series on fast breaks, and Oladipo is responsible for 19 of those points, more than the Cavs have total. He scored 12 points himself and assisted on the other 7 points. If Oladipo isn’t the one running the jewels and scoring, he is making sure to find someone else to finish the job.
Despite being in foul trouble, Oladipo just ripped the ball from Larry Nance Jr. and left him on the floor. He then found Cory Joseph, who finished the play despite taking contact on his way to the rim.
These fast break and points off turnovers are the biggest advantages Indiana has over Cleveland. Indiana turns the ball over less than their counterpart, which limits the Cavaliers chances to put up a shot. And outside of LeBron, hardly any other Cavaliers manages to score in this phase of the game.
Let the game get loose, let it get wild. Indiana’s defense limits teams from scoring in transition while scoring plenty of their own points. That plays in the Pacers favor.
Kenny said how often Indiana gets into those advantages will be the difference, and punishing Cleveland on turnovers and transitions is one of them.