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Hypothetically speaking, basketball fans, raise your hand if you had been told before the playoffs began that the Cleveland Cavaliers would hold their opposition to less than 100 points in each of the first three games.
Checking… OK, no hands in the air.
Taking it another step, raise your hand, again, if having been told that, you’d even begin to fathom the Cavaliers losing two of three said games.
Again, no need to tell you to put your hands down… they weren’t raised.
Somehow, some way, the Cavaliers, with a defense rated 29th out of 30 teams in the NBA going into the postseason, have held the Pacers to 98, 97 and 92 points in Games 1, 2 and 3 of their best-of-seven series.
Of the 16 teams that reached the playoffs, Cleveland is rated an almost unfathomable No. 3 in the postseason, according to NBA.com.
“That was our Achilles’ heel coming into the playoffs, and I thought we did a good job really doing what we’re supposed to do defensively,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said after practice Saturday. “But offensively, when we get stops, we get steals, we gotta be able to push the basketball and we’ve gotta be able to convert in transition.”
Yet, somehow, some way, Cleveland has managed to lose two of the first three games.
The Cavaliers, in order, have:
* Started abysmally in Game 1, trailing after one quarter, 33-14, rallying to within seven in the third quarter, then faded down the stretch toward a 98-80 loss.
* Received a huge performance in Game 2 from LeBron James, who scored Cleveland’s first 16 points en route to 46 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals in building a huge lead, then almost blew it, but held on for a 100-97 win.
* Built a 17-point halftime leading in Game 3, 47-30, with their best half of the playoffs, then spit the bit big time in the second half, being outscored, 62-43, to pave the way to a 92-90 loss.
Despite all of that, Cavaliers Lue remains upbeat about his team’s ability to bounce back in Game 4 on Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I’m confident,” Lue said. “I think if we play the way we played in the first half, we definitely can win. We got to win come Sunday. And I’m confident we can do that and so are the guys in the locker room.”
As is his want, Lue said it’s more about what the Cavaliers do, as opposed to the Pacers.
“We just got to be better,” he said. “Come out in the second half, being up 17, you can’t let this happen. You can’t let a team come back like this.”
J.R. Smith, who shot 3-of-11 in Game 3 and finished with eight points, five rebounds and four steals in 34 minutes, said Game 3 was akin to two games packaged into one.
“We looked like a totally different team from the first half to the second half,” he said. “It was coming at us so fast, I don’t know if we weren’t ready for it or there’s nothing we could have done about it. I picked up three fouls in the third and it was tough sailing from there.
“I’m stunned, but it is what it is, that’s why it’s a seven-game series.”
Kevin Love, who made 6-of-11 shots and had 16 points in the first half of Game 3, but took just two shots in the second half and finished with 19 points and six rebounds in 38 minutes, said it’s all about surges.
“Momentum is a beautiful thing in this game but it can work against you in a lot of ways,” he said. “Especially playing a team that plays really well at home, plays downhill and a very physical style of ball.
“That’s what you saw (Friday night).”
He, like Lue, is keeping the faith the Cavaliers will be able to get off the canvas after the two-point loss in Game 3.
“We faced challenges with this team, this being my fourth year here,” Love said. “We’ve had to overcome a lot, but every playoff game is different.
“Sunday is going to be a battle.”
Smith, who along with James, Love and Tristan Thompson, who has not gotten off the bench the last two games, started for the Cleveland teams that reached the last three NBA Finals.
He, too, is of the belief the Cavaliers will answer the bell come Sunday night for Game 4.
“We always, for whatever reason, rise up to adversity,” he said. “We’ve just got to do it if we want to be a playoff team and continue to play in these playoffs, we’ve got to come back strong.”