CLEVELAND — LeBron James and Kevin Love were in Cleveland’s starting lineup against Indiana to open their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, just as everyone knew they would be.
Jeff Green, Rodney Hood and George Hill rounded out the starting five, which created plenty of questions heading into Game 1 on Sunday afternoon.
After the Pacers’ 98-80 victory — fueled by mediocre offensive performances by all the starters other than James — the questions have multiplied.
“I thought offensively, we didn’t make shots, we didn’t take shots, we just wasn’t aggressive enough,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought their pressure really bothered us early, picking up full court with their guards. Post-ups on Kevin, they tried to be physical and take him out of it. So we just have to be more physical for Game 2 and own our space offensively.”
The worst example of the ineptitude was power forward Jeff Green, who went 0-for-7 from the floor — including 0-for-3 from behind the 3-point arc — for zero points and a starting lineup-worst minus-15 rating in nearly 27 minutes played.
“He just has to be more aggressive by attacking the basket and being more decisive offensively,” Lue said. “He just has to run the floor more … just play faster and play with more energy. Of course, 0-for-7, zero points, we know he has to be better. He will be.”
Love struggled for most of the first half, when the Cavs dug themselves the massive hole they were eventually buried in, not hitting his first shot — a 3-pointer — until 1:53 remained. He finished 3-for-8 — 3-for-6 on 3-pointers and 0-for-1 on free throws — for nine points in over 34 minutes.
“We just had a number of (shots) go in and out,” Love said. “We look up and towards the end of the game our percentage is way down. The free throw line, same kind of thing.”
Hill went 3-for-7 for seven points in just 19 minutes — Lue said he suffered a back injury but expected the point guard to be ready for Game 2 — and Hood went 4-for-8, including
1-for-4 from behind the arc, and 0-for-2 on free throws for nine points in nearly 21 minutes.
“They were more physical. You could tell they were ready to play,” Hood said. “We’ve got to match their physicality starting off and just play with a better pace offensively.
“We were taking the ball out slow, we were getting the ball up the court slow and they were aggressive on the defensive end. But if we play with pace, we’ll take away that physicality.”
Due to injuries and the late acquisitions at the trade deadline, the starting five the Cavs put on the floor Sunday had only spent a handful of possessions together during the regular season.
Several players on the roster also had limited or no postseason experience, making Game 1 expectations difficult to quantify.
“We were pleased with a lot of the looks we were getting, we just can’t shoot as tight,” Hood said. “I think tonight we were just tight with all our shots. I think next game we’ll be relaxed, we’ll come out and we’ll play a lot better.”
The Cavs are hoping that’s the case, and when they step on the court Wednesday night for Game 2 they’ll already have something they didn’t have Sunday — a playoff game under their belts.
“I’ve always said that experience is the best teacher,” James said. “And they got it today.”
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