Oladipo's Numbers Speak for Themselves

He never lets on. Never lets you in. Never drops the veil of take-it-one-game-at-a-time-and-learn-from-it-and-move-on to reveal human traits of frustration, doubt, joy, or redemption.

Thus, there's no backstory to report on Victor Oladipo's performance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday, when he did what only two other Pacers in the franchise's NBA history have done: record a triple-double in a playoff game. Coming off three games unworthy of an All-Star, when he hit just 12-of-50 field goal attempts, he put together what surely was the best game of his career with 28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and four steals in the Pacers' 121-87 victory over Cleveland.

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And now they're off to Cleveland for Game 7 of this dramatic first-round series on Sunday, with a chance to shock the majority of the NBA world with a victory that would eliminate LeBron James and the Cavaliers but wouldn't, they insist, shock themselves at all.

Forget about latching on to the role of underdog, playing with nothing to lose, trying to heap all the pressure on Cleveland. They have something else in mind.

"We're going in with the mentality to win, more than anything," Myles Turner said. "Our mentality is to win Game 7 and get ready for the next round. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we're confident."

Oladipo's confidence was the story of the Game 6 victory. He never lost it, he would tell you, despite the shooting slump and the difficulty contending with the Cavs' double-teaming defenses earlier in the series, and maybe that's true. But it would be nice if he could tell you about a turning point — a pep talk, a counseling session, a superstition, a revelation of any kind — that helped him shake off that dreadful 12-of-50 over the previous three games and helped him hit 11-of-19 shots — including 6-of-8 3-pointers — in the one on Friday.

He offered no such storyline, however. He never does.

"Nah," he said. "Just went out there and played. Did everything with confidence. Didn't overthink it. Just played. Read and react."

Victor Oladipo

Pacers coach Nate McMillan had offered a hint of an angle before the game when he said he had told Oladipo to be more aggressive going to the basket. James' block of his driving layup on the Pacers' last possession in Game 5, a play the NBA later admitted should have been rules goaltending, could have been avoided if Oladipo had been able to dunk the ball.

Oladipo made an impressive two-handed dunk attempt on a drive to the basket in the third quarter but banged the ball off the back of the rim. He was successful five possessions later, when he blew past JR Smith and dunked over James, giving the Pacers an 84-66 lead.

Was that the plan? Be more assertive?

"Just made the play that's there," Oladipo said. "Whatever play it is. Just trying to do whatever I can, whatever I need to do to help this team win. If that means I need to finish strong I try to finish strong."

OK, whatever. That's Oladipo for you. He's usually pretty lively in postgame locker room, especially after victories. Music blares from his wireless speaker, which he takes into the shower area like a kid carrying a teddy bear, he often stops to kibitz with teammates during their interviews, and sometimes he makes weird noises just for the sake of making weird noises.

Put him before the media in a postgame press conference, though, and he becomes a buttoned-down, stone-faced sculpture who says next to nothing of interest, and certainly nothing that might inspire an opponent. Of course, that doesn't mean he won't be cutting up with his teammates when he hits the locker room at St. Vincent Center the next morning.

That consistency, that control of his emotions, has served Oladipo well this season, carrying him through his own version of "the process," in which he's learning to bear the all-star's burden of dealing with an opponent's custom-made defense.

"One thing about Victor, he remains the same," Darren Collison said. "Whether he's playing well or not, he's the first person to scream in the mornings.

"You don't like it," Collison added with a laugh, "but he's himself. He doesn't change his personality because of a bad game. As players we all know. We've all been there before."

Darren Collison

Collison included. He had averaged 8.5 points on 35 percent shooting in the first five games of this series. He also had hit just 4-of-16 3-pointers, conduct unbecoming of the NBA's best 3-point shooter (.468) during the regular season. Friday, he was back to his old self, at least his regular-season self, by hitting 6-of-9 shots and 3-of-4 3-pointers.

He didn't mind admitting he had to take a different mindset into the game. Focused on defense throughout the season, he decided to become a little more, dare we say, selfish.

"I tried to be more assertive tonight," he said. "When I focus on the defensive end, I tend to forget about myself on the offensive end. Tonight, I felt like, How about you look for yourself more? Be more aggressive and make some of those plays that we need.

"I don't think people understand, it's not easy pressuring the ball, especially at this age (30). Sometimes it takes away from you at the offensive end. I just told myself, This is it, you've got to do it at both ends of the floor."

The Pacers did just that on Friday. For the first time in the series, put together the sort of collective effort that made them one of the most surprising teams in the NBA. They dominated the Cavs, with an offense featuring seven players in double figures and another with nine and a frantic defense that forced the Cavs into 42 percent shooting and even limited James to a mortal 22 points.

That's what gives them confidence for Sunday's ultimate grand finale.

"It's going to be very emotional but we're looking forward to the challenge," Oladipo said.

Quietly, and with a straight face.

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Mark Montieth's book, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," covers the formation and early seasons of the franchise. It is available at retail outlets throughout Indiana and online at sources such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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