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The Indiana Pacers have made it crystal clear this season — they have no fear of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After winning three of four regular-season games against the Cavaliers, and splitting the first six games of their Eastern Conference opening-round playoff series with them, the Pacers come to Quicken Loans Arena for a decisive Game 7 today full of confidence.
Indiana even the series with a 121-87 whipping of Cleveland on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“(Today) will be another test,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said following Saturday’s practice. “I thought they passed the test (Friday) night. All the things we asked them to do and the challenges we threw out to them, they passed that test.
“Now, we’re in Game 7. It’s the first time for me and this group. We’ll see how we respond to that.”
Pacers point guard Darren Collison, who had his best game of the series Friday night, scoring 15 points of 6-of-9 shooting, said that victory is not an indication of what will take place today.
“It’s nothing about a blueprint (to beat Cleveland),” he said. “It’s just about playing our game. Teams have bad performances all the time and then the next game they start to play their game. We’re going to play our game. They’re going to play their game. It should be a fun Game 7.”
Victor Oladipo, who menaced Cleveland in Game 1 with 32 points in a 98080 win and again in Game 6 with his first postseason triple-double (28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, as well as 4 steals), said maintaining their poise in front of what is guaranteed to be a hostile crowd of 20,562 is imperative for the Pacers today.
“The key is keeping our composure,” Oladipo, who has led Indiana from 22 down to beat the Cavs in the regular season and from double-digit deficits multiple times in this series, said. “It’s a Game 7 so emotions will be high, but it’s just another basketball game that we got to go win.”
Tantamount for the Pacers will be trying to control LeBron James, who rampaged his way through Games 2, 3, 4 and 5, but was limited to 22 points in Game 6, though he did not play in the fourth quarter because Indiana had already run away and hid through three quarters. James’ teammates shot only 9-of-32 from beyond the 3-point arc in the game.
“We were better last night loading to James and not allowing him to just play in the paint. I thought we did a better job of keeping him in front and making him work to shoot over the top,” McMillan said. “But our weakside was better. We weren’t hugged up with the 3-point shooters on the perimeter and was able to really defend both the paint as well as the perimeter as well as recover to the paint to rebound. That’s basically the game plan we have every night for every opponent.”
Indiana forward Thaddeus Young, who helped the Pacers outscore the Cavaliers in the paint, 58-32, in Game 6 said.
“We are figuring out their different schemes and ways to guard them, and we’re making adjustments through the course of games,” he said. “(Assistant coach Dan Burke) is devising a great plan for the defensive side of things and we’re going out there and following through.”
Also crucial for Indiana is its ability to get out and run. The Pacers had 35 fastbreak points to the Cavaliers’ 12 in Game 6. Forcing Cleveland into 15 turnovers, the Pacers converted them into 29 points.
“We did a great job of setting our pace,” Oladipo said Saturday. “We need to build on that in Game 7.”
McMillan is pleased the Pacers are in a situation to win one more game to advance to a second-round series with No. 1-seeded Toronto. The Pacers took their passports with them to Cleveland, with the idea of flying out after the game to Toronto. Games 1 and 2 of that series will be played Tuesday and Thursday at Air Canada Centre.
“Going back to Cleveland,” McMillan said, “we feel we have a chance.”
Bojan Bogdanovic, who played in a Game 7 last season with Washington, which lost that game to Boston, can’t wait to get after the Cavaliers again.
“It’s even better if we beat them on their court,” he said.
Oladipo tempered that a bit, knowing what and who is waiting for them today.
“It’s going to be like a war zone,” Oladipo said. “Looking forward to going to war.”