Here’s what’s most alarming of all: It didn’t even look like an upset.
What it looked like was the better team won. Comfortably. That’s what should bother the Cavs the most.
Here’s what should bother Cavs coach Tyronn Lue the most: In the first quarter, the Indiana Pacers came out and played with the energy and intensity that’s expected in the first game of a playoff series. The Cavs came out and played like it was the last game of a long road trip in mid-January vs. the Phoenix Suns.
“You can’t ease into the playoffs,” said Lue after the Pacers blasted his team out of the gym, 98-80.
In the first 7½ minutes of the game the Cavs only scored four points.
At one point, the Cavs got called for delay of game. They should have been called for delay of energy.
“They hit us first, and we didn’t recover,” Lue said.
So the Cavs again failed to show up for the first quarter, but instead of it resulting in a forgettable and relatively meaningless loss during the regular season, it resulted in a loss in Game 1 of a playoff series, plus the loss of the home-court advantage, against a speedy, hustling and hungry Indiana team that’s confidence is soaring.
“We came here to win. We didn’t come here just to be OK,” said Pacers star Victor Oladipo, who dropped a 32-point water balloon on a subdued and shocked Q crowd.
Trailing 33-14 after the first 12 minutes, the Cavs actually outscored Indiana 66-65 after the first quarter. But the first quarter counts, too, and in the first quarter of this one, the Pacers embarrassed and ran circles around the nonchalant Cavs.
Lue’s crew regrouped enough to win the second quarter 24-22, but they still trailed by 17 at the half, and less than a minute into the second half, an exasperated Lue called timeout after the Pacers scored on uncontested dunks on their first two possessions.
“They were more physical and more aggressive than us, and in the playoffs, those teams win,” Lue said.
The Pacers won three of four games from the Cavs during the regular season, so Sunday’s Game 1 result wasn’t exactly man bites dog.
But there were red flags flapping everywhere in this Cavs loss. At the top of the list: the Cavs’ have multiple players without any prior playoff experience, and most of them looked either scared or hurt.
“We had some guys out there for the first time in a playoff game. I think everyone will be calmer in Game 2,” LeBron James said.
Even Jeff Green, who does have playoff experience, looked shaky. He played 26 minutes without scoring a point.
Lue said he thought the Cavs’ defense wasn’t the problem, and he’s probably right. Holding a playoff team to 98 points should be good enough to win.
But the Pacers’ frenetic defense suffocated the Cavs offensively, especially from behind the arc. In the regular season the Cavs shot .372 on 3-point field goal attempts, sixth best in the league. Sunday they shot 23 percent.
The Cavs were 8-for-34 on 3-pointers. Kevin Love and J.R. Smith were 6-for-12, but the rest of the team was 2-for-22 (9 percent).
“Defensively, I thought we were pretty good. Offensively, we didn’t make shots. We didn’t take shots,” Lue said.
“We didn’t score the ball,” said James, who was 0-for-4 on 3-point attempts. “In this league, you’ve got to score the ball.”
Indiana’s speed advantage over the Cavs showed up most on defense. Almost every Cavs shot was contested by one or more Pacers. That resulted in a whopping 16 Cavs turnovers. That’s not going to change in Game 2. The Pacers are still going to be the faster team, and that’s a huge problem for the Cavs.
“We’ve been playing like this all year,” Oladipo said. “We’ve been busting our butts at both ends all year. Today may have been a shock to some people, but we’ve been doing this all year.”
The Pacers on Sunday were the better team, by far, even though they also have a bunch of young guys who aren’t exactly playoff veterans. But that inexperience in the postseason didn’t seem to bother Indiana.
Game 2 is Wednesday. If the shell-shocked Cavs don’t show up for the first quarter in that game, the offseason, and James’ free agency, could be arriving much earlier than the Cavs expected.
“Everybody has to dig deeper so we don’t lose a second game on our home floor,” James said. “We need to be more mind-ready.”
Lue rattled those same pots and pans
“We need to change our mindset,” he said. “Be more physical.”
At the very least, the Pacers got the Cavs’ attention Sunday, especially in the tone-setting first quarter, when the casual Cavs were too cavalier for their own good.
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