NBA Playoffs: LeBron James' Cavs again searching for answers after nightmare second half against Pacers in Game 3
The Cavs look fragile and vulnerable after three playoff games. Remember when they were supposed to flip the switch?
The Cleveland Cavaliers had it in the bag. At halftime in Game 3 of their first-round series, they led the Indiana Pacers 57-40. Unlike , a three-point victory, they were not relying on LeBron James carrying them; Kevin Love led the team in scoring with 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting at halftime, and Aggressive George Hill had 11 points.
Everything was going the Cavaliers' way on the other end, too. Indiana star Victor Oladipo, so dominant when he was on the court in the first two games, had just five points on 2-for-6 shooting. Oladipo had four of the Pacers' 11 turnovers, and Cleveland was winning the battle of the boards, too. Maybe, finally, the Cavs were figuring it out. Maybe they had flipped the proverbial switch.
Twenty-four minutes of basketball later, this idea feels something between quaint and ridiculous. If there is a switch to flip, Cleveland has not yet found it. If anything, it was the Pacers who showed an ability to dial up the intensity and turn things around.
Indiana not only erased that 17-point lead in the second half; it made the Cavaliers look shallow, slow and sloppy. The Cleveland offense looked a lot like it did in its regular-season visit to Indianapolis on Jan. 12, when the Pacers came back from a 22-point deficit and escaped with a two-point win. The stakes were obviously much higher this time, but the margin of victory was identical. After this 92-90 loss, Cleveland has to regroup and reevaluate how it is approaching this matchup., and the flow of the game felt a lot like its
Haunting the Cavs: Bojan Bogdanovic. Not only did he score 30 points on 11-for-15 shooting, make the game's biggest shot -- a 30-footer to give his team a five-point lead with 2:26 remaining -- and do his damndest to stay in front of James one-on-one, his mere presence is a stark reminder of what Cleveland lacks. Indiana counts on Bogdanovic to space the floor, move the ball and compete on defense. The Cavs, desperate for reliable two-way players, would probably play him 30-plus minutes a game if he was on their roster.
Nineteen of Bogdanovic's points came in Cleveland's nightmare second half. When Cavs coach Tyronn Lue sat down at the podium to take questions, the first question was simple: "What happened in the second half?"
Lue sighed. After 12 seconds of silence, he asked the reporter to repeat the question.
Lue's eventual assessment: "I just thought their physicality, denying the basketball, getting into us -- when we catch the ball, we're back on our heels, the pressure, I thought it just hurt us, man. Ten turnovers in the second half, that cost us, too."
He then offered some more blunt criticism: Cleveland wasn't ready to play and Indiana was tougher.
These explanations are not likely to satisfy Cavs fans concerned that, three games into the postseason, their team is still inconsistent and searching for lineups that can both score and get stops. Preparedness and toughness shouldn't be talking points in the playoffs, and there are more pressing questions: Why did Love only take two shots after halftime? Can Hill, who only played 23 minutes, be counted on to stay on the court? Lue said that Hill's back "locked up" and wasn't capable of playing down the stretch.
As he typically does after postseason losses, Lue expressed a belief that his team would get it together.
"I'm confident," he said, pointing to the way Cleveland performed in the first half as an example of what needs to be done.
It is difficult, though, to separate the Cavs' moments of cohesion from their moments of dysfunction. High highs and low lows have been a part of their identity for years, but this season is different.
This time last year, Cleveland was battling a much less inspiring Indiana team led by Paul George. Every contest was close, but the Cavs kept finding ways to win. It ended up being the most competitive sweep in NBA history -- they outscored the Pacers by 16 points over four games. Cleveland is seeing similar adversity in this series, but, two out of three times, it has failed to persevere.
Heading into Sunday's crucial Game 4, this Cavs roster is not going to suddenly be deeper or more balanced. James is going to have to do some heavy lifting, and he's going to have to do it against a team that has a well-earned belief in themselves. If Indiana wasn't sure how vulnerable Cleveland was heading into this series, it surely knows now.
"We just gotta be better," Lue said. "In that second half, being up 17, you can't let this happen. You can't let a team come back like this."
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