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Forty-three pregame pindowns leading up to Game 5 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena…
1. It sounds so simplistic, but has remained the Cavaliers’ kryptonite throughout both the regular season the playoffs — play better in the third quarter.
2. During the regular season, the Cavaliers outscored their opponents, on average, in every quarter except the third. It’s been a problem that has been exacerbated during the last three games of this series against the Pacers.
3. Cleveland led by at least 10 points at halftime in Games 2, 3 and 4. However, it was outscored by an average of 8.0 points in the third quarter of those three games.
4. The problem? Offense. While Indiana scored an averaged of 24.0 points in the third quarter of those three games, the Cavaliers’ offense became almost nonexistent. Cleveland has averaged an abysmal 16.0 points in the same third quarters.
5. Kyle Korver, who rescued the Cavaliers with two huge 3-points in the fourth quarter in Game 4, said the players have tried to mix things up in an effort to cure their third-quarter blues.
6. “We’ve had double-digit leads going into the third quarter, but we’ve come out flat each time,” he said. “We came out once just trying to get more shots up. Everyone went out early. Next time, we tried layup lines. We’re trying to figure out what to do, but really we have to be more aggressive. Mentally, we’re missing our edge, for some reason, in those first few minutes.”
7. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue weighed in with his take, citing both ends of the floor as the problem.
8. “Get stops,” Lue said when asked for the key to altering the troubling trend. “I think play through the game and also play with pace offensively. I think we’re getting some good shots coming out in that third quarter. We just got to make them. But I think defensively, we really got to do a good job of just coming out in that third quarter and establishing our defense.”
9. Kevin Love is of the belief more movement, of both the basketball and bodies, would go a long way toward solving the Cavaliers’ malaise coming out of halftime.
10. “They’re just a team that spreads you out and they can play inside-outside and they’re a very good team on both sides of the ball,” Love said of the Pacers. “I think more than anything, what we’ve been preaching is not getting stagnant on offense, even in the half court not keeping it on one side and continue motion even if we do post Bron (LeBron James) to continue to have that weak-side action and continue to get open looks.”
11. For the record, Cleveland led at halftime of Game 2, 58-46; Game 2, 57-40; and Game 3, 60-50, only to be outscored, 21-16, 23-12 and 28-20, respectively.
12. Starting point guard George Hill, who sat out Game 4 because of back spasms, was still being listed as questionable during Cavaliers shootaround for Game 5 tonight.
13. If Hill cannot go, Jose Calderon will once again get the call. Cleveland is 24-9 this season (regular season and playoffs) in games the 36-year-old is part of the starting lineup.
14. When Calderon started with James, Love, Korver and J.R. Smith on Sunday night, it marked the first game that group has started together and the 33rd different starting lineup utilized by Cleveland this season.
15. Calderon was the eighth different player to start for the Cavaliers in this series, tying the 2012 Miami Heat for the most by a LeBron-led team. That squad started eight different plays in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals.
16. The Cavs are the only team in the playoffs that have NOT had two players score 20-plus points in a game.
17. James has been his usual spectacular self, averaging 32.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.0 steals an 1.0 blocks in an exhausting 43.0 minutes through the first four games.
18. The problem is, who comes next or, more accurately, who doesn’t. Love is next in line, averaging 12.0 points per game, while Smith is third at 10.0 points.
19. Speaking of James, he has never lost a first-round series in 12 previous playoffs. Now, he has two of the next three games at home to try and keep that streak alive.
20. More on LeBron — In Cleveland’s two wins in this series, he’s averaging 39 points on 63 percent shooting. Those numbers decreased to 26 points and 43.6 percent in Cleveland’s two losses.
21. James, who looked gassed in the second half of Game 4 after scoring 23 points in the first half, on the heavy minutes he’s been logging in this series: “My legs don’t feel great, obviously, with the minutes and then the flight, but I just start getting my treatment around the clock and prepare myself. The good thing about this one is we had two days in between, so it’s helped me out a lot.”
22. James is averaging 43.0 minutes in the playoffs, more than 2.5 more than anyone else across the league in the postseason. The only other players averaging more than 40 minutes are Damian Lillard of Portland (40.5) and Paul George of Oklahoma City (40.2).
23. Tristan Thompson saw his first meaningful minutes in Game 4, though he played only seven of them. During that first-half stretch, Thompson didn’t score, but he did set two solid ballscreens for James that led directly to layups for him. During his seven minutes on the floor, the Cavaliers were plus-seven.
24. “I thought Tristan was good,” Lue said. “I thought his energy was good. He ran the floor, set some good screens. Defensively, he was pretty good. And then offensive rebounds, he got his hands on a couple of balls he didn’t get. But I thought his activity was good.”
25. Cleveland 12-1 through the Eastern Conference last season. Is there something to the idea that these are the playoffs, they’re supposed to be hard?
26. “Yeah. I mean, I think it’s good for us,” Lue said. “I think, playing this team, they’re a physical team, they get up and pressure in the backcourt, they make it tough on you offensively. It’s just not easy. So I think it’s good for us, in this first round, to have a good, competitive challenge. And they’re a good team, so we’ve just got to be up and ready to go.”
27. Which Korver was in Game 4, making the aforementioned crucial 3-pointers. Lue said Korver’s contributions were a much-needed shot in the arm for Cleveland.
28. “A great sign,” Lue said. “I think it just shows you what a veteran… being a veteran and being confident in what you do. The first half, he struggle to make shots and came out in the third and fourth quarter and made some big shots for us. So, he’s going to shoot the ball and he’s always going to have the confidence to shoot it, and he made some big shots and big plays for us.”
29. Lue said the experience being gained by the likes of Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., making their first playoff appearances in their careers, along with Rodney Hood, who made his first playoff start in Game 1, is invaluable. Hod played 11 games in the playoffs off the bench for the Utah Jazz last season,
30. “I think it helps them out a lot,” Lue said. “But the biggest thing, I think, is just like getting deflections, taking a charge, first to the floor, the hustle plays and the tough plays and everything else opens up for itself.”
31. Feeling the heat and intensity of the postseason has been a good experience for the Cavaliers’ playoff neophytes, according to Lue.
32. “They’ve been competing. They’ve been doing a good job,” Lue said. “A couple of mistakes, defensively, for us rotation-wise and a couple of things, but that’s to be expected. But if you play hard, you can cover up for mistakes.”
33. On the other side of the coin, the Pacers, who finished only two games behind the Cavaliers during the regular season, remain confident.
34. “We’re not losing confidence,” point guard Darren Collison told the Indianapolis Star. “This team is the defending Eastern Conference champions. Whatever you want to say about them, this is a very good team. They’ve been through a lot over the last few years. We’re fine. There’s no need to overreact or panic. We’re going to go into their building and we’re going to give the same effort.”
35. Lue has been mixing up Cleveland’s defensive schemes, which are focused on attempting to limit Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo, who torched the Cavaliers for 32 points in leading the Pacers to a 98-80 win in Game 1. Cleveland has both blitzed (double-teamed) and hedged hard on Oladipo all series.
36. “I think we’re flying around,” Lue said. “And, you know, when you’re blitzing, you’re going to give up something, we understand that, but we try and take away everything we can take away. And the guys have been doing a great job of doing that. We’re going to fly around . You’re going to be in rotation. But the biggest thing when you’re in rotation like that, just making sure we get, you know, guards to box the bigs out to keep them off the glass.”
37. Staying with one concept will not be effective. “There’s a balance,” Lue said. “I thought, you know, last game they came out in the third quarter and got a couple threes to (Bojan) Bogdanovic early, and then, you know, and we adjusted and got out of the blitz and went to a different coverage, and the guys did a good job of adjusting.”
38. Remember that 61-foot shot Smith made at the first-quarter buzzer in Game 4? According to ESPN Stats & Info, Smith is the fifth player to make a 60-foot shot in the last 20 post-seasons. In the 2017-18 season, players were 1-for-177 from that distance.
39. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Smith joined Stephen Curry (2015), T.J. Ford (2011), Mo Williams (2009) and Nick Collison (2005) with his hefty heave.
40. Indicating absolutely nothing, the officials for tonight’s Game 5 are James Capers, Bill Kennedy and Bill Spooner.
41. Calling tonight’s game “pivotal” would not be an overstatement. In NBA playoff history, in seven-game series that are tied at 2-2, the team that wins Game 5 goes on to win the series 83 percent of the time.
42. The guys in Las Vegas have a lot of money for a reason. Consider — in Game 3, the Pacers were one-point favorites and won by two points. In Game 4, the Cavaliers were two-point favorites and won by four. Cleveland is a six-point favorite for tonight’s Game 5.
43. For what it’s worth, and it’s probably not much, the opinion here is Cleveland tonight becomes the first team in this series to win back-to-back games.