CLEVELAND – Sitting at the postgame podium, flanked by no one, Paul George was at a loss for words.
He searched for ways to describe what the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Big 3 had just done to his Indiana Pacers.
“We’re doing a terrible job of getting back and guarding people,” George said. “If we had the answers we’d probably be up in this series right now.”
While George lamented the Pacers’ defensive efforts, the Cavs’ Big 3 relished their role in creating this predicament for their opponent.
LeBron James (25 points), Kyrie Irving (37) and Kevin Love (27) combined for 89 points as the Cavs took Game 2 on Monday night. It’s the first time in Cavs history that three players had at least 25 points in a playoff game, and though the Pacers clawed their way back to within four with under a minute left, the 117-111 final margin never felt like it was in serious jeopardy.
James softened up the defense on drives, Irving kept Pacers point guard Jeff Teague on skates and Love buried nearly every shot he took. His 27 points came on seven total shots from the field. He hit all 12 of his free throws, knocked down three-of-four three-pointers, snagged 11 rebounds and took one massive charge that seemed to galvanize the Cavs in the third quarter.
Cleveland Cavaliers take on Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of opening round of 2017 NBA Playoffs
“It’s huge because you see your brother sacrificing his body,” James said of the charge Love drew on 6-10, 280-pound Kevin Seraphin. That charge, one of four that Love tried to draw throughout the game, came amid a run of 10 consecutive points from Love as the Cavs stretched their lead to 89-70. Earlier in the game Love had taken a forearm to the face, the result of George trying to use Love as a launch pad. He said those plays were trying infuse an attitude in his team.
“Whether it got called or not, I feel like it’s setting the tone for the rest of the team, and more than anything it being a selfless act and giving your body, hoping it goes the right way,” Love said. “I try to look up and see the play after it happens because then I try to get the crowd involved and get a reaction.”
There were plenty of moments from James and Irving that stirred the crowd into a frenzy. LeBron had a soaring, one-handed jam off a breakaway in the first half and then exposed a Pacers’ defensive miscommunication for another, the latter a powerful two-handed statement.
James’ final tally – 10 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, four blocks and eight turnovers, to go along with his 25 points – was his 89th double-double of his storied postseason career. It was also the first time in his career, regular season or playoffs, that he ever logged four steals and four blocks in the same game.
Irving’s seminal moment came at the end of the third quarter. Lance Stephenson tripped on a teammate’s foot during one of Irving’s patented crossover, but the effect was such that the crowd thought Irving had made him fall. On the next possession, Irving drained a 25-foot three-pointer then jawed with Stephenson in a colorful exchange. That capped a 33-20 third quarter where the Cavs had dazzled on the offensive end, engaged on the defensive end and rattled the Pacers’ psyche.
kyrie crossed lance stephenson all the way back to charlotte pic.twitter.com/u1ebE3iaTW— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) April 18, 2017
“I thought in the third quarter we just lost our composure,” said Pacers coach Nate McMillan. “I thought we started to get frantic out there. When they made a run offensively, we tried to get it back ourselves, but we just lost our poise.”
At its core, that’s what a devastating offense does to a team. At one point in the second quarter, before Irving seized control of the game and Love went on his personal run, James was playing conductor. Two of his three assists in the quarter led to three-pointers, and the Cavs, as a team, were shooting 60% from three-point line, nine-for-15 from deep. But the Pacers were down just five going into halftime.
The Cavs have their warts, and they’re mostly on the defensive end. Still, it’s doubtful there will be any serious consequences, at least not until the next round. The Cavs allowed 51% shooting and yielded 24 points on 19 turnovers. Only an offensive firestorm can overcome those sorts of pitfalls.
James essentially served notice to the rest of the East after Monday’s win. He wasn’t concerned that the Cavs nearly spoiled another double-digit lead.
“No, because we’re right there. We’re right there (near) what we know we can become and we’ll figure it out. We’re right there on turning the switch on what we really can become,” James said. “We’re playing some really, really good basketball.”