CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers knew a best-of-seven series with the Indiana Pacers would be physical, and the first two games in the opening round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs have proven to be just that.
The two teams combined to commit 44 fouls and battled for 75 rebounds, where Indiana held a 41-34 edge over the typically aggressive Cavaliers, but Cleveland pulled out a 109-108 victory over the Pacers. Then, in Game 2, the teams combined for 37 fouls and 70 rebounds.
But the Cavaliers are no strangers to physical competition in the playoffs, especially in the early rounds after battling the Boston Celtics (2015) and Detroit Pistons (2016) in the opening round in each of the last two years. In fact, they consider the Pistons series good training for this battle with the Pacers.
“It was physical,” power forward Kevin Love said of the Detroit series. “They definitely prepared us for what was to come in the later rounds. They were a tough seed. I know that we swept them, but they took us.
“They might have had the lead early in every game and we had to fight back, claw back and really take control of those games by sheer will and determination. We know that this is going to be a physical battle for us, a team that is going to throw different lineups, play big, play small and bring that physicality to Round 1.”
According to Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, the Pistons brought a physicality at all five positions on the floor, and that was a critical test, as afterwards, they went on to sweep the Atlanta Hawks, battle through a tough six-game series against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then, fought off a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
“It was a physical series, one through five,” Lue said of the Pistons series. “Reggie Jackson is a big guard. Tobias and Morris were physical. Drummond was physical, so I thought they brought a physicality that set a tone for us throughout the playoffs.”
Now, as the Cavaliers look to take a three-game lead over the Pacers, the players will use that experience gained from last year’s run to the NBA Championship, the first in franchise history, to chase down another ring.
“We have a lot of guys, a lot of veterans that have been through it,” Love said. “We can share our difference experiences in both conferences, the conference finals, the NBA Finals.
“We have the luxury of knowing what it takes, but also, having everybody healthy is great. We want to hopefully keep it that way moving forward. We have a lot of things on our side right now, but we also have a lot to proof, so I think that makes it great for this team.”
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