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Until Friday night, the Cavaliers hadn’t lost when leading after the third quarter. They’d led going into the fourth 40 times — and won them all.
But Friday was the ultimate Cavs meltdown in a season that’s simply had too many.
Final score: Indiana Pacers 92, Cavs 90 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first-round series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Cavs, who led by 17 points at halftime, trail the series by a 2-1 count with Game 4 set for Sunday night.
How do you blow a 17-point halftime lead in the biggest road game of the season?
The reasons are many. For one, the Cavs did a lot of standing around on both ends in the third quarter. Then in the fourth, they couldn’t get a good look at the basket.
How does that change so suddenly?
A lot of it is effort. A lot of it is adjustments made by the coaching staffs in the halftime locker room. A lot of it is in-game adjustments, rotations and lineups.
For whatever reason, Pacers coach Nate McMillan has beat the Cavs’ Tyronn Lue at the finer points of coaching in nearly every meeting. Before the Cavs’ early February trades, after the trades, the playoffs — doesn’t matter.
The Pacers continue to handle the Cavs.
So if the roster changes, as the Cavs did significantly, there really is only one place left to point the finger. In the Cavs’ case, that’s the head coach.
Granted, it’s not all Lue’s fault. The Cavs have actually improved defensively in this series. They also have the advantage of being blessed with the best player in LeBron James. And Lue can’t put the ball in the basket for his team.
But he could sure try to make it easier once the Pacers figure out how to defend James better, which they did in the second half.
No one else stepped up, and mostly because no one else was put in a position to step up.
For whatever reason, Kevin Love can’t get in a position to help the team when it needs him most in this particular series. He had a strong first half with 16 points — but scored just once in the second half. Granted, it was a biggie, as Love chased down an offensive rebound to make a 3-pointer from the corner, cutting Indy’s lead to 91-90 with 7.6 seconds left.
But it was a case of too little, too late from Love, and perhaps that too can be pinned on Lue.
Love went 6-of-11 in the first half … and attempted a measly two shots in the second.
Basically, why isn’t Love getting the ball on the blocks? Does he lack aggressiveness? Or do the Cavs not have an offense beyond hoping LeBron creates something? It’s probably too much of both.
MORE OF THE SAME
James finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Love ended up with 19 points. George Hill scored 13, but all came in the first half. Where was Hill at the end?
No one else performed well enough to write about.
Defensively, the Cavs did a nice job on Pacers star Victor Oladipo in the first half. Love and J.R. Smith relentlessly trapped Oladipo at the top of the key.
It resulted in five points and four turnovers for Oladipo in the first two quarters. He finished with 18 points, committing just one turnover in the second half.
Oladipo is a great player, and you knew he would eventually get his. But there is no doubt the Pacers figured out the Cavs’ scheme in the final 24 minutes — and the Cavs looked befuddled on how to adjust.
Bojan Bogdanovic, the smaller and slower Pacers forward who defended James, actually outscored James with a game-high 30. Some of his points came off amazing 3-pointers with a hand in his face. Others came as a result of the Cavs’ continuous double-teaming of Oladipo — which again, was a good thing.
Others came (drumroll, please) when the Cavs failed to adjust, leaving Bogdanovic wide open time and time again.
Still, defense hasn’t been an issue, at least not for an entire game. The same can be said of the offense.
What appears to be haunting them most, it seems, is the lack of ability to adjust when things start slipping away. Worst of all, that has especially been the case against this particular opponent, and it’s hard to envision that coming to an end.