Well, The Pacers Tried!
In a spirited Sunday afternoon affair, the Indiana Pacers nearly beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a opening-round Game 7 destined for at least a brief mention in LeBron's twenty-three-part career retrospective to be produced by UNINTERRUPTED in 2029. It was an admirable effort!
The Pacers can be forgiven for thinking they had a real chance of knocking off LeBron in the first round. We know what happens when it’s widely assumed LeBron has one foot out the door. And the Cavs either have a miserable roster, a coach just bumbling enough to somehow minimize their potential, or both. (The debate show topic “Is this the saddest sack-of-crap roster LeBron has single-handedly willed to [current playoff round]?” has rightfully made its annual return.) Indeed, those are ingredients for an upset.
But LeBron didn’t mail in this deciding game, presumably because he saw some meme post on Instagram and realized Michael Jordan lost in the first round three times and LeBron James has not. Cancel the Miami trip Savannah, I musn’t have this blemish on my record!
So he started 7-for-7 from the field, worked the pick-and-roll to an acceptable level of effectiveness, embellished some contact here and there, ate a few orange slices, and generally commanded his army of misfits to competence. He finished with 45 points on 25 shots, and added nine rebounds, seven assists, and four steals. A pretty good series-clinching line, even by his standards.
The game-sealing plays came with about 30 seconds remaining when LeBron came off a screen from 37-year-old (!) Kyle Korver, dished it to Korver out of a double-team, then burned Bojan Bogdanovic backdoor for an easy lay-in.
On the next possession, James guarded Victor Oladipo at the top of the key, keeping the Pacers’ star in front of him and with a hand up like the old days, then sprinted to the baseline to grab Oladipo’s miss himself.
Sequences such as this remind us why LeBron’s supporting cast is mostly irrelevant until the Finals, and that we were silly to think this overwhelming tidal wave of a baseball player would lose a first round series to the goddamn Indiana Pacers.
After LeBron's game-winner on Wednesday, I let my mind wander to next season. Could he stay another year in Cleveland? Joining the Sixers seems almost too easy, and maybe the Cavs are just a few tweaks away from truly contending. Tristan Thompson played Game 7 like he really didn’t want to go home, George Hill shined when he was allowed to, Larry Nance Jr. jumps high, the Nets’ pick, hey we might be cooking with gas here!
But that was the confetti talking. When the dust settled on this series we were reminded that yes, these other players aren't all that helpful. The Cavs are not a few tweaks away from a title, they're a few major changes away from LeBron maybe not having to kill himself to get out of the first round.
If James is going to drag the sorry-ass group of name-brand bench players to the conference finals, he will have to endure a very quick turnaround, some level of fatigue, and the Raptors' home court advantage, which is apparently as intimidating as a group of Canadians can be. So, Cavs in six. |ES|