The Pacers handed LeBron James his first first-round loss in quite some time, beating Cleveland 98-80 on Sunday. Here are three takeaways from watching the new kids on the Eastern Conference block:
Forget Last Season; Victor Oladipo’s Playoff History Starts Now
Indiana isn’t a young team in the traditional sense. Oladipo is its second-youngest starter, and he is less than 20 days away from turning 26. But an identity is still forming for the team built through the once-disastrous-seeming Paul George trade. And for a stretch late in the third quarter of Game 1 in Cleveland, it looked like the Pacers would lose their big lead (up to 23 points at one point) the way inexperienced teams often do. Oladipo, for instance, may be the main reason the Pacers made it back to the postseason without George, but he had played in only one first-round series (with Oklahoma City last season) before Sunday.
Oladipo looked like a different player than the one that shot just 34 percent from the floor against the Rockets in last year’s playoffs. In the Pacers’ Game 1 upset, their leading man finished with 32 points, six rebounds, four assists, and four steals. The transformation in one year’s time was jarring.
Against Houston, Dipo shot worse from the perimeter (24 percent) than even Andre Roberson. Sunday, Oladipo was 6-for-9 from deep—giving him the same amount of made 3s as he had in that entire five-game series. He walked away from his first playoffs with 54 career postseason points; he’ll likely pass that total this year in Game 2.
Unfamiliar Territory for LeBron
It was expected that Cleveland would have trouble in the postseason. But more so getting out of the Eastern Conference finals, not, say, from the first minute of the first game of the first round. It goes without saying that this loss is a bad sign for the Cavs, but it also shows us just how problematic LeBron’s supporting cast is, even after that massive reshuffling at the trade deadline.
Baron Davis and Mike Bibby were in front the last time LeBron lost a game in the first round. pic.twitter.com/0r7WbJKWHS— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) April 15, 2018
This was the first time James had lost a game in a first-round series since 2012, when the Heat dropped a meaningless Game 4 to the Knicks. LeBron has never lost a first-round playoff series in his career. Three more performances like Game 1’s 23.5 percent 3-point shooting and 16 turnovers likely will not happen. But bumping up those numbers might not even be enough.
About That Cavs Lineup Adjustment …
Four games were left in the regular season when coach Tyronn Lue inserted Jeff Green into the starting lineup over Larry Nance Jr., with the idea of using the lineup in the playoffs as well. The hope was to mend Cleveland’s ailing defense even though it already seemed like a lost cause.
Green, who also surprisingly/sadly played a significant role on offense the past few games before Game 1, was not the answer in Game 1. (Spoiler: There isn’t an answer with this roster.) He played 27 minutes and went scoreless. That’s not to say he wasn’t aggressive, though: Green took seven shots and missed them all. Might want to go back to the drawing board, Ty.