It was 57-40 in favor of the visitors, as the Cavaliers headed for the locker room at halftime. Briefly, it seemed like Cleveland figured out the Pacers, and were reinvigorated with their hand-picked, matching suits before the game.
In the 24 minutes that followed, LeBron James and Co. scored 33 points, as they watched the Pacers steal a Game 3 victory from underneath them.
To put into context the unfamiliar territory that LeBron James is in, he had won 21 straight first-round games coming into this series. The Cavaliers have lost two of the first three games and it doesn’t look to be getting any easier. Here are some things we learned from the Cavs’ collapse and what to look forward to in Game 4.
1. Ty Lue’s lineup decisions continue to be baffling
Arguably the best Cavalier in the first quarter wasn’t LeBron James or Kevin Love, it was George Hill. The Cavs’ floor general had nine of the team’s first 12 points and was uber aggressive on both ends.
After having a rough Game 2, it seemed like Hill had arrived onto the scene. With 3:19 to go in the first quarter, head coach Ty Lue pulled Hill out, in favor of Jordan Clarkson. Hill then sat for about nine minutes, returning halfway through the second quarter. With the groove that Hill was in, it made a lot of sense to bring him in earlier in the quarter, but Lue was against it.
Hill sat for about the same time frame in the second half, except the Cavaliers were a minus-12 in those minutes. The momentum and pace had completely shifted by the time Hill re-entered the game in the fourth quarter. Lue should’ve inserted Hill to start the quarter, to give the Cavaliers a boost and some playoff experience in a must-win game.
Jeff Green’s minutes also continue to be a debacle in this series. He’s a matchup nightmare, not creating spacing on the offensive end and getting dominated athletically on the defensive end. Lue continues to play Green alongside Larry Nance Jr. and Kevin Love, a lineup that’s destined to fail. For what it’s worth, that lineup to start the second and fourth quarters, has an offensive rating of 122.2, but an awful defensive rating of 137.7, yet Lue continues to depend on them.
These decisions are going to have to improve moving forward, or the Cavaliers’ season may not last any longer.
2. Blitzing Victor Oladipo seemed to work — until Bogdanovic happened.
Fear The Sword’s Mike Zavagno has been preaching this since the first-round series has begun: send double teams at Victor Oladipo and let the others make plays.
For about a half of play, Zavagno was spot on. Oladipo scored only five points, was out of sorts and wasn’t getting involved in the offense like he normally does. Once he dumped off the ball, Indiana’s supporting cast couldn’t make Cleveland pay in the 4-on-3 situation.
All that was true. Then Bojan Bogdanovic showed up. The 6-foot-7 forward for the Pacers made the Cavaliers pay for doubling Oladipo, as he finished with 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field and 7-of-9 from deep.
In all honesty, do I expect Bogdanovic to repeat that performance? Nope. The Cavaliers had the Pacers out of whack for 24 minutes with this strategy. It also kept Oladipo from backing up in isolation and attacking the rim or pulling up for three-pointers.
In Game 4, Cleveland will need to blitz Oladipo and rotate quickly to avoid giving up open three-point attempts to Indiana’s shooters. They were unable to stay in front of Oladipo one-on-one, so this is the strategy they’ll need to continue employing the rest of this series.
3. J.R. Smith has been the second-best Cavalier in this series
Some of you are going to think I’m crazy for proclaiming this after Smith’s roller coaster regular season, but he’s been the second-best Cavalier in this series after LeBron James.
While Smith shot 3-of-11 from the field and had eight points, he was a team-high plus-7. His play on the defensive end has been really underrated this series. Smith continues to chase Oladipo around, take charges and put his stamp on the game. In Game 2, Smith only scored five points, but again his defensive play on Oladipo was stellar. In the Game 1 loss, Smith came alive from deep, adding 15 points off the bench.
The arguments for the other Cavaliers seem to be weak. Kevin Love has good offensive quarters and bad, but mostly bad during this series. George Hill didn’t show up for Games 1-2, but came alive in Game 3. Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. have had spurts, but haven’t really affected these games. Kyle Korver’s probably has the best argument, with his toughness, continuous ability to dive for loose balls and sharp shooting in Game 2 — but it’s been up and down.
Cleveland will likely need more offense from Smith along with his continued output on defense for success in these playoffs.