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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Pacers - Game 3

Kevin Love
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

Key: Keeping Pace

We’ve been through two games of the First Round series between the Cavs and Pacers and have yet to see a single lead change – as the Wine & Gold returned the favor from Sunday’s one-sided loss at The Q, going wire-to-wire on Wednesday night to even things up at one game apiece.

That might make Cleveland’s Game 2 win sound a little more easy than it was – with the Cavaliers running out to an 18-point edge in the first quarter and holding off the feisty Pacers the rest of the way.

Only three Cavaliers finished in double-figures; luckily, one of them was LeBron James, who netted 46 of Cleveland’s 100 points in the win.

The Cavs are 23-18 all-time in Game 3s, including an 8-4 mark in the modern LeBron Era – and they’ll have to rely on that history as they travel to an arena where they’ve had their share of struggles of the years.

Yes, the Wine & Gold won both postseason matchups here last spring, but over the course of the last 16 regular season visits to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they’ve won exactly two games dating back to late November 2010. Tyronn Lue’s squad has dropped both meetings here this season by a grand total of six combined points – and they’ll be in for a dogfight again when they roll in Friday night.

Key: King of the Road

As he has all season long, LeBron James has made the extraordinary seem routine, following up his triple-double in Game 1 with a monster showing on Wednesday night – exploding for 46 points, his high-water postseason mark since his return to Cleveland in 2014, going 17-for-24 from the floor, including 2-of-5 from deep and 10-of-13 from the stripe, adding five boards and a pair of steals – tallying his 11th straight postseason double-double against the Pacers.

Tyronn Lue said that he wanted LeBron – who attempted just three shots in the first quarter on Sunday – to be more aggressive from the outset. James delivered immediately – scoring the game’s first 13 points and the Cavaliers’ first 16 en route to his 10th career postseason contest of at least 40 points, 10 boards and five assists.

Including Playoff games, the King has now posted a double-double in his last 11 meetings against Indiana (including four triple-doubles) -- averaging 32.5 points on 56 percent shooting to go with 9.9 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 2.45 steals and 1.36 blocks over that stretch.

Key: Shooter's Touch

As great as LeBron was in Game 1, Indiana’s All-Star Victor Oladipo was that much better – leading all scorers with 32 points, six boards, four assists and a game-high four steals. But the first-year Pacer got himself in early foul trouble on Wednesday night and was limited to just eight minutes of action in the first half.

The former Hoosier standout eventually found his rhythm and still managed to lead the Pacers with 22 points – going 9-of-18 from the floor, but just 2-of-8 from long-distance.

One of those six misses from deep came with just 27 seconds to play in regulation, when he drew iron on potentially game-tying triple.

The Cavaliers went with a small lineup to try to slow Indy’s star guard down and the move worked out right with JR Smith hounding him on the offensive end and the combo of Swish and Kyle Korver forcing him to work all night on the defensive end.

Smith only finished with five points, but two of those came on a huge steal and layup during a critical fourth-quarter stretch.

Korver looked like himself again, finishing with 12 points – going 4-for-8 from long-distance in 31 minutes of action.

Key: Love Machine

Kevin Love’s had a pretty solid couple games through the first part of the First Round matchup – averaging a double-double at 12.0 points and a team-best 12.5 boards – but he took a physical beating in Game 2.

Love only attempted eight shots from the floor in Sunday’s loss at The Q, but he was back in business offensively on Wednesday, following LeBron’s 46 points with 15 of his own – going 5-for-16 from the floor to go with eight boards.

Love tweaked his right ankle in the first half and then his left thumb in the game’s closing moments, keeping him off the floor for the final 3:43. After the game, Tyronn Lue said that his five-time All-Star was good to go for Game 3.

On the defensive end, Love and the Cavaliers had their hands full with Indy’s big man, Myles Turner, who finished with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting.

Through the first two games of the series, the third-year big from Texas is averaging 17.0 points on 62 percent shooting.

Key: Bench Trial

JR Smith led Cleveland’s reserves with 15 points in Sunday’s loss, but he was moved into the starting lineup for Game 2 and the Wine & Gold’s normally-effective second unit felt his absence on Wednesday – combining for just 16 points as a group.

Larry Nance Jr. notched 10 points in Game 1, but was limited to just a single shot on Wednesday, netting just two points and five boards.

Jose Calderon and Rodney Hood each led the second unit with five points apiece while Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green – back with the second unit – have all struggled to find their rhythm through the first two games. Green is 1-for-10 from the floor and Clarkson is 3-for-10.

If the Cavaliers are going to get past the scrappy Pacers, they’re going to need more from their bench.

For Indiana, Lance Stephenson notched double-figures on 5-for-9 shooting but didn’t have quite the emotional impact he had in Game 1 and Domantas Sabonis – one of the Pacers’ top bench performers all season – continued to struggle in Game 2 and is now just 4-for-12 from the floor in the series.

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