The Cavs came into Wednesday on a three-game losing streak, and looking to shake off consecutive blowout losses at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans and New York Knicks. Instead, they suffered another convincing loss on their home court at Quicken Loans Arena, falling to the increasingly impressive Indiana Pacers by a score of 124-107 — Cleveland’s third home loss in five games at the Q this season, and their fourth double-digit defeat of the young campaign.
The Pacers did what they’ve been doing since the start of the season — hustling on defense, sharing the ball, and looking for opportunities to get out on the break. And, for good measure, they also decided to shoot the lights out.
Indiana shot 54.4 percent from the field as a team, and knocked down 16 of 26 3-point attempts. The Pacers swung the ball around the perimeter one step (or more) ahead of the older, slower Cavs’ closeouts, and swished their open looks, en route to a season-high 35 assists on 49 made field goals.
Victor Oladipo shook off a cold start to the game to continue his stellar start to the season, drilling five of his seven triples on the way to 23 points with seven assists, with 20 coming after intermission. Down the stretch, with the Cavs needing stops to cut into Indy’s lead and make a run, Cleveland had no answer whatsoever for the two-man game of Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who maintained his monster run in the middle with 15 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
Point guard Darren Collison, a 37.8 percent career 3-point shooter who entered the game making just over 30 percent this season, got off the schneid in a big way, scoring 25 points (9-for-10 shooting, 3-for-3 from 3, 4-for-5 from the foul line) to go with eight assists, five rebounds, one steal and just one turnover in 30 minutes of work carving up a Cavs backcourt featuring Derrick Rose, J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade. Thaddeus Young did what he’s quietly been doing for years — playing defense with quick feet and active hands (four steals), taking the shots that come to him in the flow of the offense and converting when he gets the opportunity, popping for a team-high 26 on 12-for-18 shooting. Bojan Bogdanovic credibly guarded LeBron James (!) and scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half, helping Indiana weather Oladipo’s slow start to go blow-for-blow with the Cavs early until they could blow them away late.
Though Indiana controlled the game throughout, the Cavs stayed within striking distance into the late stages, trailing by just six with 3:11 left thanks largely to the work of James, who scored 14 of his game-high 33 points in the final frame.
But after an and-one by Jae Crowder cut the deficit to 111-105, the Pacers calmly responded with a 7-0 run — a cold-blooded 3 by Oladipo, a long jumper by Collison, and a layup by Young off an Oladipo feed — that pushed the lead back to 13 inside of two minutes, and out of the Cavs’ reach.
On the second night of a back-to-back, the Pacers looked confident and excellent, and earned this win. And for the Cavs, it’s getting tougher by the night to keep saying, “Don’t worry, it’s only October (or, now, December).”
The Pacers are the first team to score 30+ pts in every quarter in a reg season game against a LeBron team (only incl. games he played).
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) November 2, 2017
Entering season, LeBron's teams had been double-digit favorites 252 times
NEVER had it lost by 15 or more
Now happened 3 times this season https://t.co/3W2NbRxrbU
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 2, 2017
It’s not like Rose, Smith, Wade and Kyle Korver are suddenly going to get leaps and bounds better at defending over the next six months. It’s not like getting Isaiah Thomas back, if and when he’s able to return from his hip injury, is going to fix a unit that now ranks dead last in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing an unsightly 111.3 points per 100 possessions. Barring a roster-shaking trade, it’s not like the NBA’s oldest team is suddenly going to get younger, quicker, more athletic and better equipped to deal with penetrators like Oladipo and Collison, let alone Kyrie Irving or Stephen Curry.
I’s not like LeBron — who is now averaging 25.6 points, 8.9 assists and seven rebounds in 37 minutes a game — is going to start cranking up playoff-caliber defensive intensity in the regular season every night for the first time in years. And expected defense-and-energy stalwart Tristan Thompson went down with a non-contact injury late in the second quarter, needing help to get back to the locker room and, reportedly, crutches to leave the arena.
This might not be who the Cavs will be by season’s end, but it’s who they are now, and it’s who they’ll be until they make some significant adjustments. When they don’t try, they can lose. Even when they do try, they’re not looking all that great. You’re tempted to suggest they try holding another team meeting. At this point, though, what’s there to say?
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