As Myles Turner stood around or watched from the perimeter or had rebounds snatched away before he could lay a finger on them, you instinctively sought context for his passive play in the Indiana Pacers’ series opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Well, he’s barely 21 and this whole playoff urgency is --
Then you remembered: Hey, Turner went through all this last year. His team wasn’t facing the NBA’s defending champions but the raw, young big man had held up through the rigors of seven games against the Toronto Raptors.
Whatever toe-dipping Turner, 21, needed to do he did 12 months ago. He averaged 10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 28.1 minutes in that 2016 series that went to Game 7. He scored in double figures four times, and while Indiana survived his 2-of-13 shooting in Game 4, it could not win Game 7 when Turner shot 2-of-11 and again scored four points.
The same goes for what we’ve seen so far through two games against the Cavaliers. Turner has underperformed and the Pacers have fallen short. There’s no alibiing away his low-impact play, either, no matter how much better or seasoned he’ll be when he turns 24 or 25. Indiana has needed more from its young center than it has gotten through seven of the first eight quarters.
“It’s nothing they’re doing,” Turner told reporters as the series shifted to Indianapolis for Game 3 Thursday (7 p.m. ET, TNT). “It’s all me.”
The 6-foot-11 center Turner perked up in the fourth quarter Monday with four points on 2-of-3 shooting, after going 1-of-7 till then. But it was too little, too late for the second consecutive game for Indiana.
Turner took admirable strides this season overall, averaging 14.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting 51 percent. His impact at both ends was framed by his 115 offensive rating and 105 defensive mark. Through Games 1-2 against Cleveland? Not so helpful at 91/115.
And yet when Paul George was asked directly about Turner’s play after Game 2 -- and gave a straight-forward response indicating the young fellow’s importance -- he was criticized for speaking the truth.
“We just need him to challenge Tristan [Thompson, Cavaliers center] and keep him off the boards,” George said. “He’s got to make himself available down low in the post. He’s got to know at this point we need him to take it to the next level, and we’ll continue to work with him.”
Turner isn’t the only Pacer who needs to find another gear if they’re going to push this series back to Cleveland for Game 5. If George is going to see fewer double-teams and traps at Bankers Life Fieldhouse rather than more -- Cleveland intensified its defensive focus on George from Game 1 to Game 2, comfortable that the visitors had no commensurate weapon -- Turner, Lance Stephenson and Jeff Teague need to do more. (Thaddeus Young is carrying his usual load as long as the whistles allow. Monta Ellis appears to have aged 10 years in one, perhaps to be replaced in the starting lineup by C.J. Miles.)
From Turner, Indiana needs better reactions offensively and a greater presence under the rim. Thompson is tenacious on the offensive glass and Turner would do well to emulate him there, while battling more fiercely on the defensive end. Backup Kevin Seraphin shouldn’t be matching Turner’s numbers while playing less than a third of Turner’s minutes.
From Stephenson, the Pacers need poise. That’s a lot to ask from a player who runs so hot and so often jump-starts a squad that tends toward emotional detachment. But when Stephenson took umbrage to the way the Cavs attacked him in a third-quarter matchup with Kevin Love, repeatedly posting up the power forward and milking 10 consecutive points from him, Stephenson’s whole team paid.
The late-season returnee to their roster lost his temper, reacted angrily and dragged the rest of the Pacers sideways with him. They got outscored in that quarter 33-20.
That brought another direct question to George, another direct answer and even more nonsense about George “criticizing his teammates.”
What had George said? “He’s got to learn to control himself and be in the moment. His body language has to improve, just for the team. We all know that Lance is an emotional guy. A lot of that is his heart and competitiveness. That emotion comes out of him. He’s got to channel that toward making effort plays on the court and doing whatever he needs for us to succeed.”
Those words didn’t bother Stephenson in the least when that was relayed to him. “I feel like I got a little out of hand, being frustrated with Kevin Love scoring on me,” he said. “I don’t like to get took three times in a row.”
As for Teague, his scoring is up (19.0), his assists are down (4.0), and his ratings are seriously elevated (from 115/110 in the regular season to 135/126 now). The real challenge has come at the defensive end, where LeBron James repeatedly has sought out isolation opportunities for himself or other Cavs bigger than the Pacers point guard. There have been times when Teague has been picked on three, four, five possessions in a row.
Teague, who is listed at 6-foot-2, isn’t going to get any bigger in the coming days. Same with Turner in terms of aging rapidly or Stephenson as far as maturing overnight. But they need to grow their performances fast, unless they want this series to end that way.
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