Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 98-80 embarrassment of a home loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Sunday.
1. You wait all season for the playoffs … and then this.
2. Now, did we think the Cavs would go undefeated in the postseason? Certainly not. Is it stunning that the Pacers were able to steal one in Cleveland? Probably not. They are a team that no one has appreciated, a team that has played hard and smart and overachieved all season. So this isn’t necessarily about the fact the Cavs lost. It’s how they lost that’s troubling.
3. Right away, the Pacers played with fire. They were physical. They moved the ball. They exhibited great confidence. Meanwhile, the Cavs appeared as if they were trying to slog their way through a preseason game.
4. How does this happen? How does a team with LeBron James look so out of sorts at the most meaningful time of year? This is the Cavs’ introduction to the playoffs? This is how the Cavs respond after both James and coach Tyronn Lue have been preaching some form of “just get me to the playoffs” all year?
5. Ding, ding, ding. It’s playoff time, fellas. Wake up.
6. James and the Cavs finally did get it together at the start of the second quarter, but that won’t cut it. Not in the postseason. Not against this team. Not when Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is on a one-man mission to silence those who mocked him and the Paul George trade at the beginning of the season. Oladipo is all class, all hustle and capable of scoring on anyone, anytime. He did whatever he wanted on this day, finishing with 32 points and proving to be the best player on the court.
7. Granted, the Cavs probably won’t finish a miserable 8-of-34 shooting on 3-pointers again. They should do better than 12-of-20 on free throws. And James compiled a triple double (24 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) but went just 7-of-17 from the floor. He too is likely to be better next time.
8. But the Cavs can’t pass this off as “just missing shots.”
9. Basically, the way they played in the regular season won’t be good enough for the playoffs. They have to get focused, take care of the ball, stop being a step late on covering perimeter shooters, and come out with some energy. Sunday’s awful first quarter was on everybody, LeBron included.
10. As usual, James seemed unshaken after the defeat. “I’m down 0-1 in the first round. I was down 3-1 in the Finals,” he said. “I’m the last person to ask about how I’ll handle the next couple days (before Game 2).”
11. LeBron has earned the right to speak confidently. The Cavs could come back and win four straight. But Oladipo and the Pacers aren’t going to just hand it to them. They will have to take it.
12. Lue has to do a better job with the rotation. This has been a season-long issue. He stays with guys who aren’t getting the job done too long. He likes Jeff Green because of Green’s defense. But Green didn’t defend all that well Sunday and looked timid on his way to an 0-of-7 shooting nightmare.
13. And I write that after Lue did try to mix it up Sunday, using 10 players in the first quarter. But the middle of the first quarter is too late to try to make sure your team is prepared. Is this all on Lue? Of course not. Still, his game management has left him open to question most of the year.
14. There isn’t much of a bright side in a loss like this. Aside from James, J.R. Smith (15 points, 6-of-11 shooting) and Larry Nance Jr. (10 points, five rebounds in 30 minutes) played well. Most everyone else looked a little scared.
15. Kevin Love yanked down a game-high 17 rebounds, and that does indeed count for something. But he took just eight shots and scored nine points. Love is an All-Star and supposed to be the Cavs’ second option. He can’t shrink in the moment. He has to be aggressive, get some shots at the basket, create some contact and finish. No more excuses or playing soft.
16. Pacers coach Nate McMillan and his staff did an excellent job of devising a defensive plan. It consisted of nothing more than convincing the players to bend their knees, shuffle their feet and dig deep. McMillan has always been a vastly underrated basketball mind. The Cavs will have to counter with sharp passes, solid screens and attacking the basket aggressively.
17. Pacers center Myles Turner also had his way with the Cavs’ big men, finishing with 16 points and protecting the rim. Forward Bojan Bogdanovic added 15 points and swingman Lance Stephenson had 12 off the bench. All of these guys played fearless basketball. The Cavs allowed it. They should be mad they got pushed around and start acting determined to do something about it.
18. One game hardly makes a season — or in this case, a postseason. But the Cavs looked bad and their coach a bit confused. Nothing irritates fans more than those in-game camera shots of Lue standing on the sidelines with a blank expression on his face, the game slipping away.
19. Bottom line: If the Cavs didn’t know it before, they’d better realize that this Pacers team is for real. George has been gone all season and it hasn’t mattered. The Pacers are better than last year and have absolutely nothing to lose. They aren’t supposed to get it done here. But get it done is exactly what they will do if the Cavs don’t start showing some cohesion and some passion. And they’d better do it, like, right now.