The Indiana Pacers had the full 2016 NBA Finals experience from the Golden State Warriors perspective in just one playoff game against LeBron James.
They were the Falcons in the Super Bowl up 28-3. They were the Cleveland Indians up 3-1. In a year of historic collapses, the Pacers had their own.
There was no championship at stake for the Pacers tonight, but that doesn’t mean this game lacked importance with their season and their future still on the line. Every playoff loss could potentially make Paul George more likely to leave which would change the outlook of the franchise for years.
The Pacers looked like Golden State in the first half scoring a team record for the playoffs with 74 first half points and holding the Cavaliers to only 49. A 25-point lead at halftime that was as high as 26 points that would ultimately be their equivalent to Warriors’ 3-1 lead.
There was so much dope stuff happening for the Pacers in that first half that it was hard to keep track of it all:
- Myles Turner had perhaps the greatest play of his career when he dunked all over Tristan Thompson at the rim. The slow-motion video should be on display in a museum. Turner looked a man on a mission to rebound from his poor first two games of the series. Blocking shots, picking off passes and looking aggressive offensively.
- The Pacers shot 57% in the first half while holding the Cavaliers to just 37%.
- Paul George had 23 points in the first half and nearly outscored the Cavaliers in the second quarter by himself (21 for George, 22 for Cleveland)
- Lance Stephenson was roaring on every defensive rebound and pushing the pace like a runaway freight train, hitting threes, setting up others for quick buckets and making the crowd about as amped as they’ve ever been.
- Kevin Seraphin played like a man possessed. Scoring on LeBron, blocking Kyrie, posterizing Kyle Korver after an offensive rebound, scoring a nifty layup on a sweet assist.
- Thaddeus Young beat the Cavaliers to the ball too many times to count and finished nearly every shot he took.
- Larry Bird was water sippin’ that Kinetico finest. No looks of disappointment. No frustrating head shakes or curse words from the legend. Life was good.
Then we all know what happened next. The Pacers lost their 3-1 lead and saw LeBron in all his glory as he finished with a 41/12/13 line. The Pacers suddenly became cautious, tentative and quit pushing the pace and doing what made them successful in the first half. It’s like the came out in the second half and immediately wanted to milk the clock.
“We came out relaxed,” said George of the third quarter. “We got away from what the first half was about.”
As the Cavaliers got closer and closer, every Pacers primary ball handler besides Paul George, who finished with 36 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists, seemed timid with the ball. Stephenson passed up open threes, Teague was slow to get the offense moving throughout the half. Thaddeus Young kept fighting for rebounds, but the Pacers simply couldn’t finish. The Pacers went from shooting 57% in the first half to only 40% overall for the game.
Cleveland meanwhile woke up offensively and hit what seemed like every open three they took. LeBron did LeBron things. Paul George grew frustrated with the refs and Nate McMillan got a rare technical foul. Perhaps, the Pacers agruments with the refs was the Draymond suspension.
The Pacers pushed the lead back to 20 points with four minutes left in the third quarter, but were outscored 52-27 from that point forward. The Pacers scored only 40 points in the second half after scoring 37 points in each of the first two quarters.
Somehow Monta Ellis played about six minutes in the fourth quarter in the game that he was finally benched from the starting lineup, because McMillan decided starting the game didn’t work with Monta, so let’s try finishing it with him? Little about it made any sense, especially as many of the minutes were shared with Jeff Teague, a pairing that had been outscored by 10.9 points per 100 possessions in the first two games. It would be shocking if McMillan keeps his job after the series at this point.
The Cavaliers found a lineup that the Pacers had no answer for on defense in the fourth quarter as they forced Myles Turner to stay on Channing Frye on the perimeter as LeBron took easy strolls into the lane for layups after beating his man with no one able to protect the rim and no one able to stay in front of him. LeBron sucked all life out of the arena that had so recently been as alive as it had ever been.