We’re getting another Game 7 out East after Indiana defended home-court Friday and blitzed the Cavaliers in a 121-87 win in Game 6 on the brink of elimination. Cleveland will be heading back home for a win-or-go-home contest. Here are three takeaways from Indy’s season-saving victory:
Victor Oladipo Has Returned in a Big Way
After an All-NBA-caliber regular season, Oladipo had pulled off the old get-worse-every-game strategy in this series. He scored 32 in Game 1, 22 in Game 2, 18 in Game 3, 17 in Game 4, and a paltry 12 points in Game 5. Game 6 was an entirely different story. Oladipo was aggressive but controlled. He took 19 shots and made 11, finishing up with 28 points, including more than a few highlight-worthy plays:
His impact reverberated all over the court. Dipo added 13 rebounds and 10 assists to round out his triple-double, punctuating it with four steals. Oladipo brought his game back to the heights he’d reached in the regular season, pinballing from end to end, and hitting huge 3s (six of them!) when the team needed them. All things considered, it might’ve been the best performance of his career.
The rest of the Pacers fed off his groove. Darren Collison hit three 3s, while Domantas Sabonis added 19 off the bench, was a plus-28, and gave the Cavs all kinds of matchup problems. Even Lance Stephenson was a factor beyond his hijinks with 12 points and two 3s of his own.
Indy outrebounded Cleveland by 11, and shot better than 50 percent from both the field and deep. It was the ideal game for the Pacers: Dipo at the helm, like a bird spearheading a Flying V formation, with every other Pacer falling in line. It was the perfect recipe for a win in a do-or-die game.
Can Someone on the Cavs Please Stand Up? Anyone?
LeBron James caught an inadvertent elbow in the face from Thaddeus Young in the second quarter that created a cut just above his left eye. The Pacers drew blood, both literally and figuratively, from the player who has dominated the Eastern Conference for almost a decade.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Cavaliers found themselves heading into a Game 7 in Round 1 on the ropes. Finally, this could be the year that the team’s flaws are way too damning for even LeBron to overcome.
LeBron put together a transcendent Game 5 performance to beat the Pacers, and even then, he needed a buzzer-beater. Friday, he finished with 22 points, five rebounds, and seven assists in 31 minutes, and was pulled from the game early when it was clear there was no coming back. That’s not a bad game from LeBron; it just isn’t a complete domination. But complete domination—of both his opposition and his own team—is exactly what this lackluster Cavs roster needs every night for them to have a chance. That’s not a strategy built to last.
Look down the box score and you’ll see the problem. By the end of the third, no Cavalier outside of LeBron was in double digits, while there were six Pacers who scored 10 or more. Only Rodney Hood and Jeff Green scored more than 10 points on the night, and both players had virtually an entire quarter of garbage time to thank for that. The result? LeBron’s first-ever Round 1 win-or-go-home game of his career, and one that could end up being his last as a Cav if no other teammate decides to step up and fill in the void.
The Pacers Might Just Be the Better Team
Cleveland got beat by 18 points in Game 1, and since then, every game until Game 6 had been decided by four points or fewer. Both blowouts have come in Pacers wins, which says a lot about how these two teams match up. Indiana, especially Oladipo, played poorly in the previous three games of this series, and the Cavs were still unable to pull away in any of their wins. Indiana now has a plus-44 point differential in the six games of the series despite having to come back from down 3-2.
Despite what their seeds may say about the quality of each team, the Pacers might just be the better, deeper, more complete, and well-coached team. Even if LeBron’s team advances to the next round, it’s getting harder and harder to trust them winning four games in a best-of-seven series against any team left in the playoffs. It’s looking like the beginning of the end, and one that may come sooner than expected.