Victor Oladipo curled around a screen, caught a pass from Cory Joseph, rose up and splashed a three from the left wing. The shot extended a dwindling Pacers lead back to 12 points with fewer than 10 minutes to go in the fourth. It also sent a message to LeBron James and a Cavaliers team that has made three straight Finals appearances and is expected to make a fourth this season:
We’re not scared of you.
Indiana took a substantial 30-10 lead in the first quarter, and even though Cleveland jabbed, hooked, uppercut, and threw haymakers into the deficit, the Pacers rarely wavered. They hung on, played incredible team defense, played through Oladipo and Lance Stephenson, and pulled away with an 98-80 Game 1 win — on the road.
For context, consider how unlikely this win is. LeBron James has never lost the first game of the playoffs in his 15-year career. He’s been riding a 21-game first-round winning streak, the longest-such streak since the playoffs expanded to 16 games in 1984. The Pacers traded their All-Star, Paul George, for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis last summer. Few thought they would be here.
They are, and they’re not scared. Not scared of LeBron, who finished with yet another playoff triple-double (24 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists) but shot 7-of-17 from the field. Not scared of Kevin Love, who grabbed 17 rebounds but didn’t score in double figures. And not scared of the Cleveland shooters who shot just 8-of-34 (23.5 percent) from downtown in Game 1.
The Pacers are a picture-perfect matchup for the Cavaliers. Cleveland is the oldest team in the league, and Indiana showed it can get in opponents’ faces on a nightly basis. They attack, attack, and attack, leaving defenders who can’t keep up in the dust. And the Pacers are focused and disciplined on defense. When LeBron had a lane, the help came, and fast. It worked all game on Sunday. Why can’t it also work it games 2, 3 and 4?
Oladipo hit a similar three to the one above with just two minutes left in the fourth quarter. That shot extended the Pacers’ lead to 17. This one had a message, and it wasn’t that the Pacers aren’t scared of the Cavaliers:
It’s that the Cavs should be scared of the Pacers.