Pacers stun Cavs on road
CLEVELAND — LeBron James figured he had experienced everything in 12 postseasons.
Turns out, there was something new.
Victor Oladipo scored 32 points and Indiana outplayed Cleveland from the start while pulling off a stunning 98-80 victory Sunday in the series opener, handing James and the Cavaliers’ their first loss in the opening round in eight years.
It also was the first playoff-opening loss for James, who came in 12-0 in Game 1s and didn’t realize he had been perfect starting the postseason.
“Is it?” James said. “I’ve never lost a game in the first round before in my career?
But while he knows the narrative before Wednesday’s Game 2 will be on the struggles of Cleveland’s playoff newcomers, James isn’t worried.
“I’m down 0-1 in the first round,” he said. “I was down 3-1 in the Finals. So, I’m the last guy to ask about how you’re going to feel the next couple days.”
The Pacers are feeling confident after beating the Cavs for the fourth time this season.
Indiana took control from the outset, opening a 21-point lead in the first quarter and pushing it to 23 in the third. The Cavs got within seven in the fourth, but Oladipo, once a role player who has blossomed into an All-Star in his first season with Indiana, hit a big 3-pointer and Bojan Bogdanovic helped put Cleveland away with a 3 to make it 88-71.
When the final horn sounded, the Pacers didn’t celebrate or run around the floor like they had accomplished anything special.
They calmly walked off, business as usual.
“We believe that we can win,” Oladipo said. “We came into this game with a mentality that we wanted to attack on both ends of the floor and play the way we’ve been playing all year, and we did a great job of that. It’s only one
game, it’s only Game 1.”
The Pacers completely outplayed the three-time defending conference champions, whose turbulent regular season has carried over into the playoffs.
James scored 24 with 12 assists and 10 rebounds for his 20th career triple-double. But James got little help as Cleveland’s four other starters — Kevin Love, Jeff Green, Rodney Hood and George Hill — combined for 25 points.
“They were more aggressive,” James said. “They just played inspired basketball and they just took advantage of everything we wanted to try and do. They were more physical than us at the point of attack, and they were most precise with what they wanted to do and we couldn’t score the ball.”
Cleveland went just 8 of 34 on 3-pointers and missed eight of 20 free throws.
The Cavs’ playoff theme is: “Whatever It Takes.”
Well, it’s now going to take a first-round comeback.
This is all new to James, who had won 21 consecutive first-round games and lost a postseason for the first time in his 13th playoffs. The 33-year-old is trying to get to his eighth straight Finals, and already the path is tougher than imagined. Cleveland had won 14 straight first-round games, last losing on April 22, 2010, the last season of James’ first stint with the Cavs.
Indiana was swept by Cleveland in last year’s opening round. Those Pacers, though, didn’t have Oladipo or the balance of this Indy squad, which may lack experience but not confidence.
Lance Stephenson, a longtime playoff nemesis for James, helped set the tone in the first quarter with a dunk he punctuated by throwing several punches into the padded basket stanchion
The Pacers took the fight to the Cavs, and Indiana’s players are battling critics who say they can’t compete with Cleveland.
“We were definitely mad,” Stephenson said. “They still don’t believe. We’re just going to keep proving everyone wrong and play together.”
While some fans are getting their first look at Oladipo, the Pacers have seen this before.
“On this team, we all know what Victor can do when he steps on the court,” Thaddeus Young said. “You’ve got to double-team him because he makes good decisions with the basketball. When you don’t, you saw what he’s capable of.”
• Celtics survive wild finish, hold off Bucks 113-107 in OT
BOSTON — Boston coach Brad Stevens loves the postseason because it offers a chance to “bust narratives.”
The Celtics took their first step toward shattering the belief they can’t win without their biggest stars.
Al Horford had 24 points and 12 rebounds and Boston overcame Khris Middleton’s long 3 that beat the fourth-quarter buzzer, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 113-107 in overtime Sunday to open the playoffs.
The Celtics led 99-96 with 0.5 seconds left in regulation when Middleton took an inbounds pass on the far right wing and hit a contested 35-footer. Boston outscored Milwaukee 14-8 in the extra period.
Terry Rozier added 23 points, four rebounds and three assists for Boston in his first career playoff start. Jaylen Brown finished with 20 points. Rookie Jayson Tatum added 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Rozier said he knows he’s under a spotlight this postseason with Kyrie Irving out for the season following his recent knee surgery.
“I just know I gotta step up,” he said. “I know I gotta fill big shoes. I don’t feel no pressure. I’m glad to be in this position.”
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Boston.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 35 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists before fouling out in overtime. Middleton had 31 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Malcolm Brogdon scored all 16 of his points after halftime.
After a muted start, things opened for Antetokounmpo. But he said he must do a better job the defensive end against Horford going forward.
“He knows what he’s doing down there,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully in Game 2 I won’t play on my heels and I’ll play more on my toes and be able to defend without fouling.”
Part of the reason the Bucks were in bad spots is because they were hampered by turnovers. They committed 20, leading to 27 Boston points.
“That’s not getting shot up,” Middleton said. “We feel like if we get a shot up, we’ll be good.”
An acrobatic, spinning layup by Tatum gave Boston a 108-105 lead in overtime.
It was 108-106 when Horford snared a rebound and got it ahead to Rozier, who was fouled. He made two free throws to put the Celtics in front 110-106 with 18.8 remaining.
Antetokounmpo made one of two foul shots with 14.8 seconds left, but he fouled out of the game while going for the rebound on his miss.
Rozier added three free throws to provide the final margin.
The game went to extra time following a wild finish in regulation that included backto-back 3-pointers in the closing seconds.
Milwaukee was held to just two field goals over the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter as the Celtics built an 86-76 advantage.
The Bucks closed to 89-87 before Marcus Morris made a falling down jumper just inside the arc to make it 91-87.
It was 92-91 with less than a minute to play when a pair of free throws by Horford made it 94-91.
Antetokounmpo got free for a dunk. But Horford was steady again after being fouled, connecting on two more from the line with 15.2 seconds left.
Out of a timeout, Brogdon got free on the wing and drained a 3 with 10.3 to play to tie it at 96.
Rozier dribbled the clock down before crossing over Eric Bledsoe, stepping back and swishing an apparent game-winner with a half-second showing the clock.
But after a Milwaukee timeout advanced the ball to half court, Middleton matched it with his own 3-pointer over Brown as time expired.
“Both teams are going to keep fighting,” Bucks coach Joe Prunty said. “That’s what this series is going to be. Each little play is going to matter.”