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With Cavs at Their Best, Pacers Have Little Room for Error

by Mark Montieth Writer

We should start with this: Cleveland is supposed to be better than the Pacers, and supposed to win this playoff series.

That's been easy to forget, given the way the season ended for both teams. The Cavaliers were just an average team after the All-Star break, and won nine of their final 22 games and none of their last four. The Pacers, an average team throughout the season, won their final five to lift expectations. Even their last loss, a double-overtime thriller in Cleveland, offered hope.

But now the Cavaliers are playing like the defending champions again, a point reiterated by their 117-111 victory on Monday that gave them a 2-0 lead in the opening-round series. That's bad news for the Pacers, who need to play at their peak level and get some luck along the way to dethrone the Cavaliers.

You can complain about coaching strategy, defensive matchups and shot selection for 48 minutes if you like, but a best-of-seven playoff series usually comes down to raw talent. The Pacers' challenge is to overcome a team that has the best player in the game today and maybe forever – LeBron James – and two others who could very well wind up in the Naismith Hall of Fame: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Those three combined for 89 points on Monday, and have scored 71 percent of the Cavs' points so far in the series. To overcome them, the Pacers will have to get peak level performances from more than three players — including, and especially, Myles Turner. The 21-year-old center has yet to make his presence felt in this series. He managed just six points and five rebounds on Monday, hitting 3-of-10 shots from the field. He's supposed to be the Pacers' second-best player, and they simply can't afford that kind of gap in their production.

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Turner at least is mature enough to know who to blame for his troubles.

"It's on me," he said. "I have to slow down and keep my composure. Somebody has to help PG.

"I know what to do out there, I just have to go out and do it."

Somebody has to help PG. That's the theme of the series for the Pacers. Paul George is doing his part, playing like an All-Star when All-Stars have to step up, but he'll need plenty of help to overcome the Cavs' three-headed monster.

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George followed Saturday's 29-point performance with an even better one, finishing with 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He did a better job of fighting through Cleveland's double-teams and attacking the basket this time, getting two highlight-reel slam dunks in the first half and setting up Turner's final two points with a dish for an easy dunk with 3:14 left.

That brought the Pacers within seven points, and inspired a timeout from Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue. George's awkward 15-footer that didn't draw the hoped-for foul made it a five-point game after the break, hit two foul shots kept it a five-point game on the Pacers' next possession and his three-pointer with 18.1 seconds left got the Pacers within four.

The final minute, however, emphasized the sort of things that can't happen if the Pacers are to pull off this upset. They had the ball twice with that five-point deficit, but came up empty both times. George missed on a 3-pointer that was early in the shot clock but also an open look from the team's best player and reasonable for an underdog in a desperate situation.

The Pacers appeared to get the ball back after two Cleveland misses, but the referees overturned their call upon review. Irving then scored an uncontested layup off an inbound play simply by running off James' screen.

The Pacers' last glimmer of hope, following Irving's two free throws with 17.5 seconds left, vanished with C.J. Miles was called for an offensive foul away from the ball.

There you have it. A couple of unfriendly whistles, a defensive breakdown and a missed three-pointer. The Pacers don't have the luxury of falling short in those departments. Playing Games 3 and 4 on their homecourt might make the whistles more favorable, and could help shots go down, too. But individual players are going to have to make individual plays, too.

Lance Stephenson played another solid game off the bench with 13 points, but was roasted on defense by Love in the third quarter. Love – five inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Stephenson – scored 10 straight points on Stephenson, ballooning the Cavs' lead to 19 points. Six of those came from the foul line, four of them after fouls on Stephenson.

McMillan's strategy of allowing Stephenson to defend Love caused an uproar on social media. McMillan explained it as an attempt to get the ball out of Irving's hands by putting George on Irving, and Stephenson acknowledged he didn't execute it as instructed.

"It was my fault," he said. "I was supposed to front him and get help on the backside, and I just took it upon myself to take him one on one and it didn't work out. So, next game we'll figure it out."

That's the problem with the Cavs. You have to pick your poison. It's impossible to shut down James, Irving and Love all at once, you have to hope at least one of them shuts himself down.

Next game, on Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers will have to figure out a way to execute their defensive strategies better, avoid slipping into stretches of impatient offense as they did in the third quarter on Monday and get a few homecourt whistles.

But, they have justification for hope. They've proven they can score in this series. They've taken the Cavs to the final minute of both games so far. One of Cleveland's starters and primary offensive threats, J.R. Smith, sat out the second half with a pulled hamstring and is questionable.

The Pacers, meanwhile, are getting solid play from a variety of sources. Not just George, but Thad Young, who had 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting and six steals on Monday, and Jeff Teague, who had 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and Miles and Stephenson off the bench.

They'll need more from Turner, though, to be able to do what they're not supposed to do.

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GAME RECAP: Cavaliers 117, Pacers 111

Kyrie Irving scores 37 points, LeBron James and Kevin Love each add a double-double as the Cavaliers defeat the Pacers to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

Postgame 170417

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GAME RECAP: Cavaliers 117, Pacers 111

Kyrie Irving scores 37 points, LeBron James and Kevin Love each add a double-double as the Cavaliers defeat the Pacers to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
Apr 17, 2017  |  03:49

Postgame: Pacers Locker Room (Game 2) - April 17, 2017

April 17, 2017 - Pacers players Lance Stephenson, C.J. Miles and Thaddeus Young share their thoughts on the 117-111 Game 2 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Apr 17, 2017  |  02:14

PG Drops 32 in Game 2

April 17, 2017 - Paul George had a team-high 32 points on 10-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds, and seven assists in the Pacers' Game 2 loss in Cleveland.
Apr 17, 2017  |  01:55

Paul George Talks Lack of Pacer Defense

Nate McMillan and Paul George address media after falling to the Cavaliers in game 2.
Apr 17, 2017  |  02:51

George's Monster Dunk

April 17, 2017 - Paul George drives and throws down a massive dunk to get into double figures barely six minutes into Game 2 in Cleveland.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:10

Teague Scores 23 in Game 2

April 17, 2017 - Pacers point guard Jeff Teague had 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and four assists in Indiana's 117-111 Game 2 loss in Cleveland.
Apr 17, 2017  |  01:17

Lance Gets the And-1

April 17, 2017 - Lance Stephenson drives and converts the basket, drawing the foul on Kevin Love in the process.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:08

Postgame: Cavaliers React to Game 2 - April 17, 2017

April 17, 2017 - Cleveland's LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love met with the media to discuss their 117-111 Game 2 victory.
Apr 17, 2017  |  08:50

Stephenson to Seraphin

April 17, 2017 - Lance Stephenson drives and dishes to Kevin Seraphin for the bucket.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:07

PG Over LeBron

April 17, 2017 - Paul George crosses over and buries the jumper with LeBron James in his face.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:09

Defense Leads to Offense

April 17, 2017 - The Pacers block Kyrie Irving on one end, leading to a run-out dunk for Paul George on the other.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:07

Thad Gets the Steal and Then the Slam

April 17, 2017 -Thaddeus Young pokes the ball away from LeBron James and then runs the floor for the fastbreak slam with an assist from Paul George.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:09

Lance Grabs the Board and Goes

April 17, 2017 - Pacers guard Lance Stephenson comes up with the defensive board, then pushes the break and buries the jumper on the other end.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:10

Welcome Back, GRIII

April 17, 2017 - Pacers forward Glenn Robinson III nails his first 3-point attempt in his playoff debut after missing the last few weeks with a strained calf.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:11

PG Gets Game 2 Started

April 17, 2017 - The Pacers get the steal and forward Paul George throws down a tomahawk dunk on the fastbreak for the first points of Game 2.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:09

Turner Blocks LeBron

April 17, 2017 - Pacers center swats LeBron James' shot into the stands on the Cavaliers' opening possession of Game 2.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:05

Thad Blocks Thompson

April 17, 2017 - Thaddeus Young blocks Tristan Thompson out of the pick-and-roll set.
Apr 17, 2017  |  00:07