Victor Oladipo — a rising star in the NBA — is really, really good. But Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers aren’t getting out of the first round of this year’s NBA Playoffs.
The Pacers took it to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night in Game 1 of their opening-round series, following Oladipo and his 32 points to victory. The final score: 98-80. That looks really, really bad for the Cavs.
But as I start to hear mumblings of “LeBron James and Cleveland are in trouble” or “it looks like we’re about to get a competitive series” I feel the need to call out those thoughts for the madness that they are.
You see, it’s actually quite easy to explain why a Lebron-led team is down 1-0 in the first round of the playoffs. For whatever reason, the tendency for sports fans is to overreact to these sorts of things. I’d guess part of it is that we just witnessed the end of LeBron’s 21-game win streak in the first round. It makes some sense, at least, to see this knee-jerk reaction of concern for the Cavs’ well-being.
But when you look a little deeper, the causes of this upset are pretty simple.
Factor A: Indiana punched Cleveland in the mouth early in the game, jumping out to a 25-8 lead in the first 10 minutes of the contest.
Factor B: We’re in the three-point era of basketball right now and the Cavs’ inability to convert from long range on Sunday — missing 26-of-34 three-point attempts — often translates into a big, fat L.
Factor C: If you were tuned in to ESPN for the game, you might recall commentators Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy commenting on the disparity of energy and passion between the two teams. I was one of those people, and honestly, I have to agree.
Let’s examine these one-by-one. First, a team led by LeBron James will not come out the gates flat in two straight games. Plain and simple. He reminded everyone after the loss that he came back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals against Golden State because, like myself, James knows people will freak out now that the perennially Finals-bound Cavs have started the postseason with a loss. LeBron and company will be more motivated and aggressive in Game 2.
Second, Cleveland was an elite three-point shooting team during the regular season, ranking third with 12 threes made per game and sixth with a 37.2 percent clip from downtown. Those numbers were a far cry from what we saw Sunday.
So if the Cavs missed 26 three-point attempts, and each one is worth three points, that means they left 78 points off the scoreboard. Indiana’s margin of victory was 18, or six threes. By that logic, if Cleveland had shot 14 of 34 – something they are surely capable of – the game goes to overtime. Make 15 and it wins 101-98.
And third, it’s not just that they shot poorly overall. Timing is key.
Indiana won the first quarter handily, jumping out to a 19-point lead. The Pacers were more active and energetic to start the game. Cleveland missed all eight of its shots from long range.
But the Cavs chipped away at Indiana’s big lead and entered the fourth quarter down 73-65. Despite having all the momentum on its side, Cleveland unraveled. I saw a shift in body language as the game slipped away, defensive lapses when they needed a stop and a 1-for-7 showing from beyond the arc.
The Pacers will not get this lucky three more times in this seven-game series. Better luck next year.