LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers put their stamp on Game 3 early. The Cavs established a comfortable 57-40 halftime lead and looked more like the team that many expected to coast into a second-round series with the Raptors than the stuttering bunch that nearly lost both home games at the start of the first round. That only lasted a half, however, as the Pacers played lockdown defense in the second half and held the Cavs to just 33 points. That’s maybe even flattering Cleveland’s overall offensive output, as they managed to hit a few desperation threes at the end of the game after going scoreless for three minutes between LeBron James buckets. Cleveland lost, 92-90, and they now face a must-win Game 4 on the road against a Pacers team that has to be riding as high as possible after three strong games against Cleveland.
While Cleveland couldn’t do a thing late in the game, Bojan Bogdanovic went to work. The Croatian sharpshooter banged in 15 in the fourth quarter, half of his playoff career-high 30 for the game. His seven threes tied the Pacers’ franchise playoff record, and he made four in the fourth quarter, one of which even resulted in a four-point play. It’s hard to overstate how crucial his shooting was, and the Pacer who had tonight’s second-best plus-minus was Thaddeus Young, who was +1. Bogdanovic was +18.
Cleveland truly stunk it up in the third quarter, as they had seven turnovers to their five field goals. Still, their lead held until three minutes into the fourth quarter, when the Pacers went on a 14-2 run to steal the lead for good and force the Cavs to get desperate. Their lack of a second threatening ballhandler is glaring, and while James had a good game (his own three-point shooting kept the Cavs in it late), the Cavs’ offense looked like a parody of itself. This is, unfortunately, nothing new.
The 17-point lead is the second largest a LeBron James team has ever blown in the playoffs, and after Indiana nearly came back from an even larger deficit in Game 2, they have to be feeling confident as hell about taking Game 4 at home on Sunday. And why wouldn’t they be? The Cavs have shown that LeBron James can still rip off your head whenever he wants but also that nobody else on the team can even come close to making you quiver. Kevin Love is fine. He’s also not the sort of spark this team needs. If Cleveland’s shooters aren’t hitting, their offense grinds to a halt. Tonight, everyone besides James and Love went 3-for-20, which is a testament to Indiana’s strong second-half defense as much as anything else. There are no easy fixes for the Cavs, and whatever playoff magic they were thought to possess has yet to show itself. Aside from one run to start Game 2, they’ve been utterly normal.