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Game 3 Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers

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Despite a fortunate miss at the buzzer and constant lulls late in games, the Cleveland Cavaliers are up two games to none on the Indiana Pacers as this series heads to The Fieldhouse for the first time on Thursday night.

Game 1 was much closer than the sequel, which saw the Cleveland Cavaliers’ big three score 89 of the team’s 117 total points on over 60 percent shooting combined.

The reason for the Cavs’ low margin of victory in this one was actually not the free throws, but carelessness with the ball. In fact, that’s exactly how the game started out. Within the first minute and 27 seconds of the game, Cleveland coughed up the ball three times.

Paul George and Jeff Teague took advantage and combined to score 18 points in the opening quarter, though the All-Star forward was the one putting on a show with highlight-reel dunks in the first half.

Those two were really the ones that paved the way for Indiana offensively—George finished with 32 and Teague had 23. Thaddeus Young also brought it on both sides of the floor once again, with 16 points and a game-high six steals.

Lance Stephenson added 13 points, but did not have the same poise and was a little erratic. Of course, the Cavs defended him much better at the point of attack (3-for-7 on drives) and forced him to shoot jump shots, which worked out in their favor.

The battle in the paint between Tristan Thompson and Myles Turner was basically a draw, but the sophomore center was stifled by Cleveland’s big man and limited on the boards. Though looking at the box score indicates he wasn’t as vital of a factor as the previous game, Thompson won the matchup again and essentially took Turner out of the game as a scoring threat.

As mentioned above, Cleveland was a well-oiled machine offensively. Those open looks they missed on Saturday were going down on Monday. The awful performance at the charity stripe in Game 1 was the complete opposite in Game 2. Nothing about the game plan changed, and it manifested itself. Indiana didn’t secure the perimeter once again, so the Cavs burned them from deep (7-for-13) on wide-open threes.

Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 37 points and really took charge in the second half, where he scored 25 of those. LeBron James—though irresponsible with the ball—impacted the game in all areas, especially on defense with four steals and four blocks. Kevin Love put his off shooting night in Game 1 behind him and played an extremely efficient game, scoring 27 points on just six shots. He did his damage from the free-throw line on a perfect 12-for-12.

Perhaps the most welcome sign for the Cavs was how hungry Iman Shumpert looked. With J.R. Smith forced to miss the rest of the game with a bad left hamstring, Tyronn Lue had to turn to Shumpert to be the next man up.

He didn’t play a single minute on Saturday, and he sure played like he doesn’t want that to happen again this postseason. Presented with the task of taking Smith’s defensive match up with George, the Cavs swingman was more than up for the challenge.

According to NBA.com’s Impact Insights, in the 18.5 minutes he was guarding him, Shumpert allowed George to make only three shots on 10 attempts. Going more in-depth, the Pacers’ All-Star forward was held to a 92.9 offensive rating on a 45.1 percent true shooting percentage. To put this in perspective, with Shumpert off the court, George’s ORTG is 119.4 for the series.

While losing Smith would hardly be a blessing in disguise, the new sign of life for Shumpert is a refreshing sight for the Cavs and he proved his worth when he’s got a pep in his step.

Who Wins Game 3?

Ultimately, the Pacers reaction to George’s post-game comments will dictate how the rest of this series goes. He hasn’t been sidestepping anything. In Game 1, he publicly stated that C.J. Miles should’ve given the ball up to him for the last shot. Now, after Monday’s loss, he’s demanding to get more out of Turner and says Stephenson has to “control himself.”

Not every player takes criticism the same way, so it’ll be interesting to see how Indiana responds to their leader. If they take it with a grain of salt and play with fire, then George will have done his job to ignite his team that’s down 2-0. If they see it as more of a knock than motivation, it’ll be a different story.

The Pacers are averaging over 50 percent from the field and have lost both games by a combined seven points. That can be demoralizing for a group that’s scratching and clawing against the defending champions.

In the Cavs’ case, that percentage really wasn’t a result of bad defense, but rather the amount of turnovers resulting in easy shots for Indiana in transition. It’s become commonplace for them at this point to give up big leads with an inability to close games out. That’s a bad habit that needs to be fixed if they expect to go far.

Where some may think that the Pacers are done in this series, they’re not. In the regular season, they surely loved to play at home and that won’t change in the playoffs.

Game 3 will be one where Turner responds emphatically to George’s words. Stephenson will be itching to play in his first playoff game at The Fieldhouse in nearly three years. Also, keep an eye on increased playing time for Glenn Robinson III, who returned for a brief nine minutes from a calf injury, and potentially Al Jefferson.

While Cleveland may try and crush their spirits right away, Indiana knows going down three games to none basically means curtains for their season. The Pacers will keep fighting and get their first win of the post-season as they outscore the Cavs in the fourth quarter for the third consecutive game.

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About Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.