Pacers Have Confidence, Seeking Solutions

On Saturday, when they led the series 2-1, the Pacers were luxuriating in the outside world's anticipation of a first-round upset over an opponent that appeared to be fracturing.

One game later, the series tied and homecourt advantage having been returned to Cleveland, the tone of the commentary and questioning has shifted to the point some of the Pacers feel the need to remind everyone they're not exactly on the brink of disaster.

"It's 2-2," coach Nate McMillan said Tuesday with a hint of exasperation in his voice, following practice at St. Vincent Center before the team caught its flight to Cleveland. "We know we need to improve in some areas and so do they."

"We are still in a great position, at 2-2," Bojan Bogdanovic said. "I think the pressure is on them. We have to stay calm."

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Well into an answer related to the need to do a better collective job of defending LeBron James, Darren Collison voluntarily veered toward the topic of the team's mental state.

"But I'm very encouraged, you know what I mean?" he said. "It seems every game we're beating ourselves. If we can eliminate those mistakes we'll be fine."

The Pacers have plenty of resources from which to extract confidence heading into Game 5 on Wednesday. They were 21-20 on the road during the regular season. They won Game 1 of the series in Cleveland by 18 points. Their two losses have come by three and four points, games that easily could have had happier results with just one or two fewer errors in judgment, or one or two more made shots.

They'll naturally make a few strategic adjustments for Game 5 in search of ways to free their lone All-Star, Victor Oladipo, from the shackles of Cleveland's double-teams and find better shots, but most of the changes need to come from stricter adherence to the fundamentals of the offensive approach McMillan has been preaching all season.

Victor Oladipo

That would include a faster tempo in transition, where the best shots tend to come, and more patience in the halfcourt, where the best shots are harder to come by. The Pacers shot too quickly in their Game 4 loss on Sunday, particularly Oladipo, who hit just five of his 20 field goal attempts - except on the occasions they were hesitant and passed up open looks.

The bottom line was 43 percent shooting from the field and 13 attempts from the foul line, which netted just eight points.

"There weren't any surprises," McMillan said of the Cavs' defensive strategy. "We can't get out there and play mind games with ourselves. If there's not a double team, you attack. You have to make your read if there is as double-team. Some of those traps they would come quick, sometimes they would come up and zone. Guys are going to have to make those reads on the floor."

That's the primary challenge for Oladipo, who is getting his first taste of star treatment as it applies to the playoffs. He began experiencing double-teams after his made his first All-Star appearance this season, but the Cavs have tightened the screws more effectively than anyone since he scored 32 points in Game 1.

He struggled with it in Game 4, shooting too quickly at times and too inaccurately at others.

He never lets on to frustration, however, or even anything resembling disappointment.

"I don't even know what you're talking about," he deadpanned when asked Tuesday about his Game 4 experience, although he later conceded: "We have to do a better job down the stretch of making decisions and making the right play."

Bogdanovic was more blunt: "We have to take care of the ball and take better shots," he said. "Patience, especially in the last couple of minutes in the game; we have to know what we are doing and find the best solution we can."

Bojan Bogdanovic

Bogdanovic wasn't directing his comment toward anyone in particular, but the onus of the offense the rest of his series is likely to fall on Oladipo as the team's greatest offensive threat. He doesn't necessarily need to score in high volume, but he'll have to at least free his teammates to do so when being double-teamed.

It's a test that challenges every star player early in his NBA career. The Pacers can only hope Oladipo comes up with the answers on the fly.

"This is part of Victor's growth," McMillan said. "We see what he's going through. We'll do some things to help the situation later, but he has to go through this.

"I thought last game he tried to get some quick shots up before the double-team came. Some would say some of those were forced shots and probably some of those were, but he has go through it and figure this thing out."

If not now, he'll have to do it next season, because the in-between is shrinking for the Pacers.

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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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