The message to LeBron James before Game 2: be more aggressive.
From the opening tip that is exactly what James did.
LeBron scored the team’s first 16 points and finished the opening 12 minutes with more points (20) than the Indiana Pacers (18).
Game 2 began just the opposite way Game 1 did for Cleveland. Instead of being down 19 after one quarter, they were up 15. More importantly the defense picked up where it left off in Game 1.
Indiana was held to just 18 points on 38.9 percent shooting. A key for both sides was Pacers star Victor Oladipo only played 62 seconds as he picked up two quick fouls. Pacers center Myles Turner picked up the slack and scored 9 points for Indiana in the first.
Cleveland shot themselves in the foot early on in Game 1 by committing 11 turnovers in the first quarter. This time the Cavaliers limited their turnovers to just four in the opening frame.
An crucial factor early on was getting the home crowd involved early. The 16-3 run by James did just that, as the ‘Q’ was rocking with every thrilling play made by the four-time MVP.
Indiana’s shooting got better in the 2nd quarter, but shaved just three points off of the deficit. Cleveland led 58-46. James had nearly matched his line from Game 1 in the first half of Game 2, scoring 29 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists.
Cleveland’s defense also forced eight first half turnovers and held Indiana to just 2-11 shooting on 3-point shots. Meanwhile eight three-point shots were made by the Cavaliers offense, which was their total for all of Game 1.
Credit to the Pacers though, they hung around and fought back throughout the entirety of the second half. Cleveland began to coast and started missing shots (16 points, 6-16 shooting in the 3rd quarter) while Indiana pounced. They shaved five more points off of the 12 point halftime lead and went to the 4th quarter trailing just 74-67.
A key for much of the night was Kyle Korver, who barely saw the floor in Game 1. His 12 points (4-8 from 3-point range) were a huge compliment to LeBron.
But as for the rest of the the team, they were cold on the offensive end. This usually spells doom for the wine & gold. However their defense again was up to the task, stopping the Pacers when the game got tight.
A Darren Collison 3-point shot cut the Cavaliers lead to just 95-92 late in the 4th quarter. But two key misses by Oladipo and clutch free throws by LeBron iced the win.
It surely was not pretty, but the Cavaliers got what they needed, a victory. This was a promising performance by the defense, but the offense still is stuck in neutral.
Kevin Love (who left the game late with a thumb injury) had 16 shots, but scored just 10 points. Jordan Clarkson has only 8 points in two games and George Hill only has 13 points in both games.
Their 90.0 points per game is dead last among playoff teams. That is not a good number for the Cavaliers moving forward.
The silver lining for Cleveland is their defense. As shocking as that may seem, this series is 1-1 because of their defense. Their 103.6 defensive rating is good for 5th place among playoff teams.
James’ superhuman effort (46 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists) was just enough to get the Cavaliers a win last night. While this series is far from over, it is vital that the Cavaliers find their offensive rhythm. Playing in front of a hostile road crowd will be a new experience for several players, and it will be important to quiet them early.
An important situation to follow is the Love injury situation. He missed the final minutes of the game after jamming his thumb on the basketball. Without Love in the lineup, it is hard to see the Cavaliers winning moving forward.
A win makes things okay for the moment, but there is still reason to be concerned heading back to Indiana. Hopefully when the Cavaliers take the floor Friday night, their offense will join them.