Cavs vs. Pacers: Takeaways from LeBron's magic act -- without Kyrie and Kevin

The game was out of reach. The home crowd was fired up. The role players had stepped up. Finally, the Cavaliers' hubris had caught up with them. It was all but certain that LeBron James would lose a first-round game for the first time in four years. 

And then... LeBron James, the best player in the world, decided that was not going to happen, decided the Cavaliers were going to win the game, and then, they did -- capping a 25-point second-half comeback, the biggest in playoff history, to stun the Pacers 119-114 to take a 3-0 series lead. That's what greatness can do for you. 

A couple quick notes before we get into the major takeaways:

  • In the second half alone, James put up 28 points, six rebounds, seven assists, a steal and a block... and had zero turnovers. He simply outplayed everyone on the floor. 
  • Here's what Indiana's win probability looked like throughout the game, via InPredictable

No Kyrie, No Kevin

Maybe most notably, this run in the second half, when the Cavs outscored Indiana 70-40, the majority of it was done with two of the Cavs' Big Three, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, on the bench. Love played just over nine minutes in the second half, Irving under eight minutes. The Cavs still outscored the Pacers with those two on the floor, but the move to a lineup with three shooters around James with Deron Williams, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye alongside J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert netted a plus-17 in 12 minutes. And bizarrely, that lineup executed defense better than the Cavs have all season. That four-man combo netted a 76.1 defensive rating, which is stellar. How much of that was the Pacers just absolutely vomiting all over themselves and how much was the Cavaliers figuring things out, is unclear. 

Speaking of the Pacers

From Indiana's standpoint, the most disappointing thing about this game was how its role players started so well. In the first half, Myles Turner and Thad Young combined for 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Second half? 1-of-12 for two points. That was a monster turnaround, and for it to happen when the Cavs went super small has to be infuriating for the Pacers. 

Let's talk about Paul George

George will get the "poor guy, didn't get any help" treatment. George finished with 36 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists. Great line. But in the second half, George was 4 of 15 for 13 points. He was forcing the issue, which is a tricky line to walk. If he's not being aggressive, he's not delivering, but if he's chucking, he's taking the team out of it. More than anything, the Pacers seemed to be on two different wavelengths. George was desperate not to lose the lead and trying to carry the team on his own, and his teammates were timid and taken aback by the Cavs' aggression.

The Pacers were a team that attacked the glass and created superior actions in the first half, and became a team that settled for contested jump shots in the second half. That was where their offense vanished. 

This whole thing continues to foretell a narrative where George asks to be traded this summer. Three times he's put on great performances, and three times they've come up short. George is clearly tired of going into these matchups vs. James short on firepower, and he's unlikely to get that kind of team for at least a few years in Indy. 

Back to LeBron

In the end, this game brought into sharp focus the same thing we've seen throughout the first round: the team with the best player is dominating. LeBron James was the best player on the floor, in the building, in the state, in the nation, on the planet, in the galaxy, in the universe. He was omnipresent, the alpha and the omega. His decision making was perfect, his aggressiveness overwhelming, his ability overpowering. The Cavs took the floor with nothing but LeBron to hold out for hope. 

And that was all they needed. 

Did the Cavs flip the switch? No, they more fiddled with it while smoking a menthol and thinking about what they need at the store. They just delivered what they're capable of. The Cavs are both teams, the squad that ran the Pacers out of the building for the win in the second half, and the team that went down 26 and looked pathetic in the first. They are both teams, and they can get away with that now. What's important for them is figuring out how to bottle what they found in that second half, and bring it out every time out for the duration of the playoffs. 

They won't always be playing the Pacers, after all. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Moore's colleagues have been known to describe him as a "maniac" in terms of his approach to covering the NBA, which he has done for CBS Sports since 2010. Moore prides himself on melding reporting,... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories