Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

KeyBank Five Keys: Cavaliers at Pacers

November 16, 2016
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Keeping Pace

It’s still extremely early in the season, only halfway to the quarter-turn, but things are beginning to sort themselves out a little bit in the East. The standings don’t look much different than they did last year, and the Cavaliers a methodically establishing themselves as the class of the Conference.

They re-asserted that position on Tuesday night, continuing their mastery of the Raptors at The Q – rallying past Toronto in the fourth and holding on for the 121-117 win with one-half of their starting backcourt in street clothes. The Wine and Gold’s offensive machinery is banging on all cylinders – three starters notched double-doubles, Kyrie Irving topped the 20-point plateau for the eighth time this season and Channing Frye was on fire from long-range for the second straight game.

On the defensive end, Iman Shumpert helped hold DeMar DeRozan, the league’s leading scorer, eight points under his average.

On Wednesday, they travel to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which has not been friendly to them, with the Wine and Gold dropping three of four there since LeBron’s return. The new-look Pacers have gotten off to a disappointing start this season, and although they’re coming off a win over Orlando, dropped the previous two – including an overtime loss to the Sixers.

Key: Heavyweight Bout

Although there are plenty of moving parts in this Central Division rivalry, Cavaliers and Pacers means LeBron James and Paul George – the two top small forwards in the Conference.

With the Big O watching courtside on Tuesday night, LeBron James put on another masterful performance – missing a triple-double by a single rebound. Playing angry for obvious reasons, LeBron was all business against Toronto – finishing with 28 points, going 10-for-15 from the floor – leading both teams with 14 assists to go with nine boards and a steal.

LeBron – who notched his sixth double-double of the season in last night’s win – has only played two games in Indy since returning to the Cavaliers, splitting the pair.

Paul George has been his rock-solid self through the early part of the season – leading the Pacers in scoring at 21.0 ppg, having topped the 20-point mark seven times in 10 games. The six-year vet had a quiet night against Orlando, but averaged 27.0 ppg over the previous two.

Key: Locking Horns

Tonight’s matchup in Indy features a pair of former Longhorns, each the face of what the center position has morphed into in 2016.

Myles Turner is coming off a very good rookie season with Indy after being taken with the 11th overall pick two summers ago. Indy’s leading rebounder joined some good company earlier this season – going off for 30 points, 16 boards and four blocked shots against Dallas, becoming just the third player, besides Shaq and Anthony Davis, to go for 30+, 16+ and 4+ before their 21st birthday. He got the Cavaliers’ attention in their second meeting last season – doubling-up with 14 points and 10 boards in the Pacers’ overtime loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Tristan Thompson had a pair of quiet performances before shaking off the cobwebs against the Hornets and completely returning to form in last night’s win over his hometown squad – doubling-up for the third time this season, notching 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting to go with 11 boards.

Key: Feel the Love

Kevin Love last made the All-Star Game in 2014, his sixth year in Minnesota. And last year, despite having the best record in the Conference at the Break, the Cavaliers only had one player represent them at the midseason classic – with Love and Kyrie barely missing the cut. But if there’s a power forward in the East playing any better than Love right now, the Cavaliers certainly haven’t faced him.

The former UCLA star has been excellent all season and kept it rolling Tuesday night, doubling-up for the fifth straight game, finishing with 19 points, 13 boards and a team-high three blocks. Over that stretch, he’s averaging 18.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per contest and his 20.4 ppg mark overall puts him in the league’s Top 25 in scoring, his 10.3 rpg are 9th-best in the NBA.

Indiana’s Thaddeus Young doesn’t put up the big numbers that Love does, but he’s one of the Association’s most steady and dependable performers -- notching double-figures in seven of Indy’s first 11 games while ranking among the league leaders in field goal percentage at a solid 55 percent clip.

Key: Bombs Away!

As confident as Cavaliers GM David Griffin must have been when he made the deal that brought Channing Frye to Cleveland, even he might not have foreseen just how perfectly the 11th year big man would have fit into the mix – and how incredibly productive he’s been since then.

Frye continued his red-hot run on Tuesday night against Toronto – going 7-of-10 from the floor, including 5-of-8 from long-distance – and scoring 13 of his 21 points in the final quarter. Two days earlier, the affable sharpshooter from Arizona dropped 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter against the Hornets – and he’s now notched double-figures in six of his last seven outings.

On the other side, there’s a former Cavalier-turned-Cav-Killer coming off the bench in C.J. Miles – who’s had some big games against his former squad since joining the Pacers, including a 26-point outburst in a Pacers victory over Cleveland two seasons ago and a 21-point outing, going 6-of-8 from deep in another win last April in Indiana.