The Indiana Pacers have put pride in their resiliency since the beginning of the season.
They’ve set an NBA record for most comebacks from down 15+ points in a season but can they comeback from a 3-2 deficit against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers after a heartbreaking Game 5 loss?
They have reasons to be encouraged. The Cavaliers have won their three games so far by a combined 9 points. The Pacers have still outscored Cleveland over the entire series by 11.
Indiana has stayed remarkably close in these last two contests despite James lighting the Pacers defense on fire while their own best player Victor Oladipo has built an entire neighborhood out of the bricks he’s shot up at the rim.
Maybe all it adds up to a bunch of what ifs if the Pacers end up losing the series, but right now it’s a sign that the Pacers aren’t going to go down easily.
“The series ain’t over,” Oladipo said last night. “You got to win four games the series to be over, right?”
They’ve never given in all season. No reason to think they will now with this surprisingly fun season on the line.
“We do a good job with our backs against the wall,” said Darren Collison after today’s practice.
This group of Pacers have never been in this situation before in the playoffs together, however.
Oladipo has never been the focus of the defense to this extent and his numbers for points and shooting percentage have steadily decreased since his Game 1 playoff introduction leading to his 2-for-15 night in Game 5.
“I ain’t never gonna stop shooting,” Oladipo said earlier this year when a reporter asked about a shooting slump.
His confidence and positivity have always reigned supreme, but the Pacers need their star to be a star (or at least shooting somewhat near his averages) to have a shot at winning the last two games.
Domas Sabonis, in his first real postseason experience, struggled in his first three games mightily but has led the Pacers in scoring the past two games as he’s taken advantage of the 4-on-3 situations that doubling Oladipo has given him.
Myles Turner has been consistent throughout the series with his shooting and kept the Pacers close in Games 2 and 4 but has not been nearly as adept as Sabonis in the past two games at knowing how to slip screens and take advantage of those situations. Too often he hasn’t been ready for the defense on the catch out of the Oladipo trap (though many of Victor’s passes out of these traps have been with little zip and slightly off target) and if the Cavs take away his shot, he hasn’t been able to make the right pass often enough.
Much like in the regular season, the Pacers offense looks better with Sabonis, but the defense is superior with Turner. Turner is the Pacers only rim protector and he was a huge reason the Pacers got off to an early 10-point lead in the first quarter in Game 5 (Pacers were +8 in his minutes in the first quarter). How Nate McMillan balances his two young promising bigs minutes will be key to potential success in Game 6 and perhaps beyond.
While McMillan received some love for Coach of the Year, his performance this series has been uneven. The end of game five ended with the Pacers having one timeout and a foul to give on the table, which left him “disappointed” in himself.
The Pacers were slow to adjust to the Cavaliers trapping in the series and still look unsure of what to do far too often like in the third quarter of Game 5 as the Cavaliers stormed back. McMillan was upset by hero ball in the fourth game but the Pacers late-game offense has been unimaginative all year, simply letting Oladipo do superstar stuff. The Pacers haven’t been able to rely on that this series down the stretch and at times the Pacers have looked lost down the stretch of games.
He’s played some nearly all-bench lineups at times while LeBron was on the court, which is just asking for the Cavs to make a run. These last games of the series will be the true test for McMillan and his stuff. If he’s a true coach of the year candidate, it should show in the team’s adjustments.
The Pacers feel like they’ve been beating themselves during their losses and that may be true, especially with the amount of unforced turnovers. They’ve yet to play at their best for all 48 minutes.