The table couldn’t have been set any better for the Indiana Pacers to take a commanding 3-1 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday night.
George Hill was out of the game with back spasms, moving Jose Calderon, who didn’t play at all in Game 3, into the starting lineup. Kevin Love started the game with two quick fouls in the first quarter, forcing Tristan Thompson, who has been out of the Cavs rotation all series, into action.
But as the Pacers still couldn’t figure out their slow start problem and Cleveland built another double-digit lead in the first half for the third consecutive game, Indiana couldn’t complete the second-half comeback for the second time in four games.
Poor offensive execution hurts Pacers down the stretch of Game 4:
Even though Indiana came back (like they always do) and took the lead in the fourth quarter, they were unable to sustain that momentum as the offense devolved with poor decision making for around the final six minutes.
“We have to do a better job down the stretch of making decisions and making the right play,” Victor Oladipo said after today’s practice.
Oladipo has been the guy all season for the Pacers to take shots down the stretch and run the offense, and this strategy largely worked over and over during the regular season with him hitting numerous big shots in the clutch. But with the Cavaliers giving him more attention than he’s ever seen, he’s had trouble making the right decision at times during the series.
“This is part of Victor’s growth,” Nate McMillan said after practice. “We see what he’s going through. We’ll do some things to help the situation later, but he has to go through this.”
It’s an important reminder that this is Oladipo’s first time as the star of his team, he said he was the fourth option in high school and Cody Zeller was the top option at IU. He’s never had the defense be almost solely focused on stopping him. If the Pacers want to move on from the first round, they’ll need him to be a quick learner and figure out how to beat the defense and balance getting his looks and not forcing the action with poor attempts.
“I thought last game he tried to get some quick shots up before the double-team came,” McMillan said today according to Mark Montieth of Pacers.com. “Some would say some of those were forced shots and probably some of those were, but he has go through it and figure this thing out.”
Cleveland has been defending Oladipo like this for each of the last three games with some subtle changes like waiting until he started his attack to double in Game 4 at times instead of bringing it whenever he had the ball in Game 3.
“There weren’t any surprises,” McMillan said. “We can’t get out there and play mind games with ourselves. If there’s not a double team, you attack. You have to make your read if there is as double-team. Some of those traps they would come quick, sometimes they would come up and zone. Guys are going to have to make those reads on the floor.”
Oladipo wasn’t the only one struggling though. Cory Joseph missed a quick midrange attempt in transition, Bojan Bogdanovic missed a challenged triple, Myles Turner looked to be fouled on a corner three attempt but it went uncalled as it came up short, Darren Collison missed a challenged midrange attempt that came after Thad Young inexplicably looked off Turner, who was 7 for 8 from the field at the time, in the post with Jeff Green guarding him. The Pacers offense simply sputtered to a halt down the stretch as Kyle Korver 3-pointers rained down on the other end.
The Pacers remain confident in their abilities to win the series and shock the world. And they should be, they’ve shown in the second half of games that they can be the better team.
They just have to figure out how to do it for 48 minutes. With how resilient this group has been all season, there’s no reason to give up on them now.
Indiana won 2 out of the first 3 games in the series. Now, they just need to win 2 of the last 3 games.