Wrap-Up — Between battling injuries and getting guys rested and ready for the postseason, it’s easy to forget how utterly dominant Cleveland’s Big Three can be when they’re locked and loaded.
Monday night was a reminder.
The Cavaliers power troika of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love was simply too much for the Pacers in Game 2 – staking the Wine and Gold to a 19-point third quarter lead before holding off Indiana down the stretch, taking the 117-111 decision and holding home serve in the First Round series.
In combining for 89 of Cleveland’s 117 points, LeBron and Love each doubled-up and Irving led all scorers with 37 points.
Once again, the Cavaliers could have had a less stressful finish – but after outscoring Indy, 33-20, in the third quarter, watched the Pacers turn the tables with a 33-21 advantage in the fourth.
Cleveland led by 15 points midway through the final period before Indiana clawed back to within five, 111-106, on Paul George’s two free throws with 1:47 to play.
On Cleveland’s next possession – after snagging a pair of huge offensive boards – Tyronn Lue and his staff drew up a gorgeous in-bounds play that freed Kyrie up for a layup that put the Cavaliers back up seven with 29.6 remaining.
But Paul George drilled a three-pointer on Indiana’s next possession to get the Pacers back to within four, 113-109, with 19.5 to play.
The Pacers would get no closer, however, as the Love and Irving drilled four straight free throws to seal the deal and send the series back to Indianapolis with a commanding edge.
Kyrie notched 11 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter – going 4-of-7 from the floor in the period and 14-for-24 overall, hitting all five attempts from the stripe, adding two boards and a pair of assists.
Love did his work in the previous quarter – tormenting the smaller Lance Stephenson on successive possessions and tallying 10 of his 27 points in the period. Love was the model of efficiency in Monday’s win – attempting only seven field goals but hitting six of them, including a 3-for-4 mark from beyond the arc and a perfect 12-of-12 from the line, leading both teams with 11 boards in the win.
”Lance (Stephenson) got excited because he made a couple of shots and talked stuff to the bench,” said Tyronn Lue after the win. “So, we went back at him and Kevin was scoring the basketball and able to get to the free throw line. That got the crowd into it and our bench into it. If they’re going to play small like that then Kevin should dominate.”
LeBron stuffed the boxscore in the Game 2 victory – his 19th straight First Round win – finishing with 25 points on 11-for-20 shooting, adding 10 boards, seven assists, four steals and four blocked shots.
The Big Three tallies 89 points as the Wine and Gold take Game 2.
James also accounted for eight of the Wine and Gold’s 19 turnovers on Monday night. On Saturday afternoon, Cleveland’s poor free throw shooting kept Indy in the game; on Monday, it was their spate of miscues that led to 24 Indiana points.
Sloppiness aside, the Cavaliers still managed to take the 2-0 series lead – and history is on their side from here, having gone 12-0 all-time in postseason series in which they’ve taken the first two games.
Cleveland’s Big Three did most of the heavy lifting, but they got plenty of help.
Iman Shumpert started the second stanza after J.R. Smith suffered a left hamstring injury in the first half. Shump drew the assignment of checking Paul George and was rock-solid – holding the Pacers’ four-time All-Star to 4-of-11 shooting after intermission.
Deron Williams netted nine first-half points, going 3-of-4 from long-range and adding a pair of assists in 16 strong minutes of work. Tristan Thompson only notched four points, but grabbed 10 boards – including five off the offensive glass.
Paul George led the Pacers again with 32 points, going 10-for-20 from the floor to go with eight boards and seven assists. Jeff Teague went 8-of-12 from the floor for 23 points and Lance Stephenson was good again in relief – tallying 13 points, four assists and a pair of steals off Nate McMillan’s bench.
Turning Point — Monday’s turning point was less about a moment and more about a person – Kevin Love.
The Cavaliers led by five at half and improved their lead to double-figures early in the third quarter. But Teague’s 15-footer cut Cleveland’s lead back to nine, 79-70, with 4:06 to play in the quarter.
At that point, Love put Lance Stephenson in the spin cycle – scoring 10 straight points while bullying Indy’s mercurial reserve around the basket. By the time Love completed his personal 10-0 run, the Pacers found themselves down 19 with under two minutes to play in the period.
”I just got into a good rhythm with that (run)’,” said Love. “Other guys stepped up throughout the game and these guys (LeBron James and Kyrie Irvng) took over in the fourth quarter. So it was just a moment in the game we took advantage of a certain situation and they kept feeding me.”
By the Numbers – 4.3 … offensive rebounds that Tristan Thompson has averaged over the course of his postseason career, second only behind Moses Malone’s 5.1 average. On Monday night, Thompson passed Zydrunas Ilgauskas (180) for the most offensive boards in franchise history.
Quotable – LeBron James, on whether he’s concerned about the Cavs surrendering late leads …
”No, because we’re right there. We’re right there (near) what we know we can become and we’ll figure it out. So like I told you, I’d much rather have an 18-point lead than not a lead at all. We make plays down the stretch to win a ball game, and in the postseason that’s all you can ask for. But we’re right there on turning the switch on what we really can become.”
Up Next — After doing their job at The Q, the Cavaliers hit the road for the first time this postseason – traveling to Indianapolis for the next two. Game 3 is set for Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, with Game 4 slated for Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. If the series extends beyond that, Game 5 will take place next Tuesday in Cleveland, Game 6, next Thursday in Indy and Game 7 the following Saturday back at Quicken Loans Arena.
Calls of the Game