CLEVELAND -- Nothing is easy in the NBA Playoffs, and the Cleveland Cavaliers know that very well.
Although the Cavaliers finished off a four-game sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs last month, it was a tough test, as each game came down to plays made in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
And heading into the second round, where the Toronto Raptors await, the Cavaliers believe they benefitted from being tested in the first series.
“I thought it was a great series for us,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought it was a lot like the series last year against Detroit. They were physical. They played us tough, and every game was a close game except for one, and this was the same way.
“We had to make adjustments throughout the course of the game, throughout the course of the series, and we played a good team. They had been playing well, won five straight games going into the playoffs. There was a stretch where they won seven in a row right before that, so it was a good team, a good test for us, a good challenge. They played us tough, and we were able to make plays down the stretch. In all four of those games, we made plays to win the game, and that was great to see.”
The Cavaliers needed big plays on both ends of the floor late in the fourth quarter to seal the Game 4 win, as first, there was LeBron James’ pull-up three-pointer from the left wing that put Cleveland back in front by a point, 103-102.
Then, on the other end of the floor, James poked the ball loose from Pacers power forward Thaddeus Young, and when James missed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, point guard Kyrie Irving pulled down his second offensive rebound of the game and got the ball to reserve guard Kyle Korver.
Korver buried the subsequent free throws to make it a three-point game.
James closed out the sweep by splitting a pair of free throws after securing a defensive rebound with one second left in regulation.
“It was a lot of mistakes, but a lot of things we got to cover up for just based on effort,” Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving said. “There were a lot of big plays made by some special players, as well as guys that have come off the bench.
“Everybody played huge, and for us to have that, sustain that type of energy, to be able to play nine, 10 guys and everyone still comfortable, everyone still be ready to play no matter whose number is called, that’s the true growth of a team right there.”
At the 9:29 mark of the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers held a 96-83 lead, but a 19-4 scoring run helped the Pacers take a 102-100 lead after Young got an offensive rebound and tipped in a missed shot from Paul George.
“We’ve got to run,” Lue said. “We’ve got to push it and try to get easy baskets because then we get bogged down and end up playing to the end of the shot clock, which is not to our advantage. To continue to get stops, we’ve just got to continue to play through the fourth quarter, pushing the ball, pushing the pace.”