For many NBA fans, yesterday’s blowout win for the Indiana Pacers over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first game of the series was an introduction to the team.
They were on national television exactly one time this season.
NBA fans, this is Indiana. Game 1 is what they’ve been doing to teams all year.
“We’ve been playing like this all year,” said Victor Oladipo, who finished with 32 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block. “We’ve been playing hard on both ends all year. It just hasn’t been magnified. It’s the playoffs now … and everybody sees it, so it’s kind of shocking to everybody I guess you would say.”
Oladipo is a superstar and now everybody can see why on this “magnified” stage. He makes elite defensive plays, blows by defenders with his speed and stops on a dime to hit pull-up 3-pointers. When the Cavaliers made a run, Oladipo was there to answer and push the Pacers lead back to double digits.
Oladipo though isn’t concerned with what people are going to say now after hearing the critics and doubters all summer and before the season.
“I have no idea. And I really don’t care,” he said after the game. “I’m just focused on my team. Focused on this series, taking it one game at a time. Right now, I’m focused on Game 2. We’ve got to be ready. They’re going to be ready, on both ends of the floor, but so are we. It’s only one game.”
“We haven’t paid attention to what people have been saying all season long,” said Head Coach Nate McMillan. “… We’re not listening to what folks are saying in the postseason. Just go out and play the game.”
McMillan says that but the Pacers players, especially Oladipo, know that no one thought they’d be in the playoffs let alone up 1-0 in a first-round series against the Cavs. Oladipo held on to these slights including one from Cavs owner Dan Gilbert who said he thought the Pacers could have done better in the Paul George trade.
““I already had fuel,” he said according to the Indy Star. “You could say it added fuel to the fire. … That was so long ago. It came up recently obviously because we’re playing the Cavs in the series. I’m aware of what he said. Can’t control his opinion. All I’m focused on is myself and becoming the best Victor Oladipo possible.”
Oladipo told fans at the final home game of the regular season, “We’re not done yet. Let’s shock the world.” Step one complete, but the Pacers know they have a long way to go in a series against the best player in the world.
“It’s the playoffs. One game means absolutely nothing,” said Oladipo.
“It’s just one game. It’s not over,” said Myles Turner, who bounced back from his late regular season struggles with 16 points on only 9 shots to go with his 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks.
Every Pacers player seemed to echo those sentiments to reporters afterwards. They know they haven’t accomplished anything yet.
“We’re fully aware of LeBron. We’re fully aware of this team,” said Oladipo. “We realize it’s not going to be easy but that doesn’t mean we’re going to come in here and just fold. We’re planning on winning.”
Indiana still has plenty of room for improvement as they look ahead to Game 2. Their defense couldn’t have played any better holding a LeBron James squad that had been lighting teams on fire to end the regular season to only 80 points, but offensively they weren’t close to their best.
Darren Collison only made 2 of his 9 shot attempts. Bojan Bogdanovic was just 5 of 17. Domantas Sabonis had 5 fouls in the first three quarters. The Pacers missed 10 free throws and were outrebounded. They still won by 18 points and never trailed.
“Our goal is not to please anybody else other than the ones in this locker room,” said Collison. “We believed in ourselves from day one, so regardless of what anybody says we’re still going to go out there and play Pacers basketball.”
This the 5th time the Pacers have faced LeBron in the playoffs. Fans know how quickly a series against him can change. Will this be the time where the Pacers finally slay the King? They’ll definitely give it all they’ve got. They’ve been doing it all season.