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Saturday afternoon’s 109-108 thriller at The Q should tell you that the Wine and Gold are in for another Central Division slugfest to start their postseason run.
Less than two weeks after a double-overtime classic on the same floor, Game 1 was tight throughout, with LeBron James and Paul George leading the way. The Wine and Gold led by double-digits early in the fourth before Indy rallied to tie the game with three minutes to play. A pair of free throws by LeBron James and a pair of stellar defensive plays by Kyrie Irving gave Cleveland the slim lead, with C.J. Miles’ game-winner drawing back-iron at the buzzer.
The win was Cleveland’s eighth straight home victory over Indy and its 12th straight against Eastern Conference teams at The Q.
The Cavaliers need to tighten up some loose ends – specifically on the free throw line – but the Pacers have their own issues – for instance, how to keep Jeff Teague out of bad switches.
History is already against Indiana: The Cavaliers have won 15 of 16 postseason series after winning Game 1. And if they can’t bounce back tonight it gets even bleaker. The Cavs have never lost a Playoff series (12-0) after taking a 2-0 lead.
The LeBron James-Paul George matchup is the heavyweight main event and it definitely didn’t disappoint in Game 1. The two top small forwards in the Conference and, in George, one of LeBron’s few physical peers, each player led their respective squad on Saturday.
LeBron notched 12 of his game-high 32 points in the third quarter – going 5-of-7 from the floor in the period and 12-of-20 on the game, leading both teams with 13 assists to go with six boards and three steals. Saturday marked James’ 200th career Playoff game, his 88th double-double in the postseason and the 13th time he’s tallied at least 30 points and 10 assists.
Paul George raised some eyebrows after Saturday’s contest, asserting that C.J. Miles should’ve ceded the potential game-winner to him.
And as deadly as Miles has been against the Cavaliers, it’s hard to argue with George – who followed up his 43-point masterpiece in the Pacers’ double-overtime loss on April 2 with a 29-point gem in Game 1, going 9-of-19 from the floor, including 6-of-8 from long-range, to go with a team-best seven assists, five boards and a steal.
Neither the Cavaliers nor the Pacers got the astronomical contributions from Kyle Korver and C.J. Miles that they did in the regular season matchups between these two teams – with Korver finishing with two points on 1-for-1 shooting and Miles finishing with five points and five fouls, hitting just one of his three long-range attempts.
But that’s not to say that both benches didn’t contribute heavily to the outcome.
For the Pacers, Lance Stevenson was a game-changer – finishing with 16 points in 27 impactful minutes off the bench, going 8-for-13 from the floor to go with seven boards and three assists. Big man Kevin Seraphin also gave the Pacers some excellent production off the bench, adding eight points on 4-of-6 shooting to go with three boards in 16 minutes of work.
For the Wine and Gold, Channing Frye has been solid in every role this year and was again on Saturday – leading Cleveland’s reserves with 11 points, going 4-of-5 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from long-range. Cleveland’s bench didn’t decorate the box score, but they did shoot a combined 8-for-13 from the floor and gave the starter’s enough support to get the win.
After a thumb injury marred the final week of the regular season for Tristan Thompson, he looked like his blue-collar self on Saturday afternoon against Indiana.
As they have in the past two postseasons, the Cavaliers fed off Thompson’s early energy and dirty work on the offensive glass, and the sixth-year big man brought both to Game 1 at The Q. TT finished with six of his eight points in the first period – going 4-of-5 from the floor overall and leading both squads with 13 boards, six on the offensive end.
Tristan has now grabbed double-digit rebounds in 25 of his 42 career Playoff appearances. But if the Cavaliers are going to make another deep run in the postseason, they’ll need No. 13 to improve from the stripe – where he was 0-for-3 on Saturday afternoon.
Thompson will again face off against fellow former Longhorn, Myles Turner, who was solid on Saturday afternoon – finishing with 11 points, eight boards and a game-high four steals.
Turner averaged 12.8 points and 6.5 boards in three contests against Cleveland this season – and the matchup in the trenches between he and Thompson will be critical to Monday night’s decision.
Kyrie Irving came up big on both ends in Saturday afternoon’s win – topping the 20-point mark for the 19th time in his last 22 postseason contests, finishing with 23 points, six assists, a pair of steals and a blocked shot.
With his 23-point performance, Uncle Drew now has exactly 800 career Playoff points and, during Saturday afternoon’s win, eclipsed Brad Daugherty (782 points, 4th) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (784, 3rd) to move into third on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.
But it was Irving’s late presence on the defensive end that helped Cleveland earn the Game 1 win – grabbing a pair of defensive boards, blocking Jeff Teague’s shot attempt that would have tied the contest with 2:14 to play and picking Myles Turner with just over a minute to go and the Cavs up four.
Teague has been excellent against the Cavaliers all season, averaging 18.5 points and 11.0 assists in four regular season contests.
But Cleveland did a good job of bottling him up in Game 1 as he finished with 15 points on 3-for-10 shooting to go with just four assists in 36 minutes of work.