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LeBron Had the Look, and It Was Barely Enough for the Cavs

Cleveland sunk Indiana, but the team needs a second banana before it can make a deep run

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The Cavs bounced back from their embarrassing Game 1 loss with a 100-97 win over the Pacers thanks to LeBron’s incredible 46-point performance that was just enough to tie the series. Here are three takeaways from the game:

Cleveland Might Need This LeBron Every Night

After the Cavs were held to 80 points in a Game 1 loss to the Pacers, Ty Lue described his forthcoming lineup change before Game 2 as “bold.” The switch ended up being swaps of Jeff Green for Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith for Rodney Hood in the starting lineup. But it turns out the strategy change could have been boiled down to this: have LeBron take every shot. In the first quarter, it wouldn’t have mattered if it was Korver or Joe from accounting in the small forward spot. LeBron wasn’t missing. He had the look.

It was like watching Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals against Boston all over again. LeBron scored the Cavs’ first 16 points, moving at will to the basket and exhibiting finesse from the perimeter. He made his first five shots and scored 11 points in less than three minutes to start the game. He finished the first quarter with more points (20) than the entire Pacers team (18). At the half, he had 29 points on 16 shots. He also added four assists. He finished with 46 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists.

Putting LeBron on the ropes doesn’t beget desperation. It produces an explosion. Twice in a pre-Finals series during his second stint in Cleveland he’s been down a game, and in those (both against the Bulls in 2015), he shot 29 and 30 times. Both times, the Cavs won. This game had similar stakes even if the Cavs weren’t facing elimination. Going down 2-0 to an underdog Pacers team heading back to Indiana might have been a mountain too high to climb even for LeBron.

The phrase “carry a team” is often used in common sports parlance, but it is usually hyperbolic. LeBron is the exception, and frankly for the team to win games—and series—in these playoffs, the Cavs can’t afford for him not to be.

Who Will Be the Cavs’ Second Banana? Anyone?

Lue’s switch to Korver paid some dividends. The sharp-shooting 37-year-old had the Cavs’ third-most points on the night … with 12. Kevin Love, meanwhile, had the second most with a paltry 15. Their combined six made 3s were just enough to help LeBron. But Indiana’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 25 to 16. And if it weren’t for LeBron’s herculean performance, we’d likely be griping about how he didn’t have enough help. The win shouldn’t change that; though the Cavs did score more than their 80 points in Game 1, they still could barely reach 100. Again: LeBron had 46! That’s nearly half of the team’s points.

Love also appeared to rehurt his left hand, the same one that sidelined him near the All-Star break this season. After the replay showed him deflecting a ball with his left thumb late in the fourth quarter, Love didn’t return to the game. Postgame, Lue said it was a jammed thumb and that nothing was broken, but at this point, missing even one game is detrimental for Cleveland. Love’s status for the rest of the series could determine its result. LeBron can’t score 46 points every night, even though I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Nobody would. But there’s a clear void waiting to be filled alongside him. Somebody in a wine-colored jersey needs to score 20 points one of these days or the Cavs don’t stand a long-term chance.

The Pacers Need Fewer Turnovers, More Dipo

Indiana was able to stay in the game thanks to a couple of runs in both the second and fourth quarters when LeBron was on the bench. But early foul trouble messed with Victor Oladipo’s rhythm. He finished with 22, which was a team high, but 10 fewer points than his game-high 32 points in the Game 1 victory. He also missed a wide-open would-be game-tying 3 in the final minute of the game. That shot would have made a difference in the final result, but so would have winning the turnover battle.

In that Game 1 win where Oladipo fueled the Pacers’ blowout, Indiana won the turnover battle 16-11. Wednesday, they lost it 17-15, and those included three run-killing cough-ups by Darren Collison, Myles Turner, and Oladipo in the fourth quarter.

The Pacers ended up allowing 18 points off those 17 turnovers, while Cleveland turned it over 15 times for 15 points. The Cavs won by three. LeBron’s incredible performance should have made the final result a far wider margin, but that the Pacers even had a shot to steal another game in Cleveland, and that they came this close, points to a blueprint they need to tighten up should LeBron go bananas again. And you know he will.