In­di­ana aims to build on Game 1 road win

Orlando Sentinel - - NBA / NFL -

CLEVE­LAND — They’ve spent the en­tire sea­son on the fringe, vir­tu­ally ig­nored by all but the most savvy fans and NBA in­sid­ers.

They don’t have any house­hold names or any su­per­stars on their ros­ter, just one All-Star and a role player best known for foolish on-court an­tics.

But as the In­di­ana Pac­ers strolled qui­etly into prac­tice on Mon­day at Quicken Loans Arena, a build­ing they si­lenced less than 24 hours ear­lier with an eye­catch­ing play­off win in Game 1 over the Cava­liers, there was some­thing un­mis­tak­able about them.

They’re con­fi­dent — and they’re no longer a se­cret.

“Peo­ple didn’t ex­pect us to do this well,” Pac­ers for­ward Thad­deus Young said, lean­ing back in a cush­ioned chair at the end of In­di­ana’s bench. “We like that. That’s what kind of drives our mo­tor a lit­tle bit, be­ing over­looked and no one ex­pect­ing us to do what we’re do­ing.”

The Pac­ers were the bet­ter team on Sun­day in a 98-80 vic­tory over Cleve­land that snapped a 21-game winning streak in the first round for LeBron James, who had never opened the play­offs be­fore with a loss and fig­ures to be more ag­gres­sive in Game 2 on Wed­nes­day.

Led by Vic­tor Oladipo’s 32-point per­for­mance, In­di­ana out­played, out­hus­tled and out­lasted Cleve­land, giv­ing the Pac­ers a 4-1 record this sea­son against the three-time de­fend­ing con­fer­ence champs.

This may have been a sur­prise to out­siders, but it was just an­other day on the hard­wood for the Pac­ers, who won 48 games dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and were the only team to beat Golden State twice.

Most of In­di­ana’s ac­com­plish­ments have been woe­fully un­der-pub­li­cized. That’s what hap­pens when only one of your games is shown on na­tional TV, you’re play­ing in a mid-mar­ket city and you ap­peared to throw away the fu­ture by trad­ing away your big­gest star, Paul Ge­orge.

But the lack of at­ten­tion doesn’t faze Pac­ers. It fu­els them.

“They un­der­es­ti­mate us,” Lance Stephen­son said, re­fer­ring to every­one, not just those Cleve­land fans taunt­ing the Pac­ers on Sun­day.

“They didn’t think we would get this far and they didn’t think we was go­ing to win that many games. But if you look at our team, I guess you could say we don’t have that one player or the type of play­ers that stand out, and that’s why they un­der­es­ti­mate us.”

Stephen­son, the Pac­ers’ in­sti­ga­tor, spark and arch­en­emy to James, set the tone for In­di­ana’s im­pres­sive win in Game 1 with a thun­der­ous first-quar­ter dunk he cel­e­brated by bash­ing his head into the padded bas­ket stan­chion.

“I’m a lit­tle dizzy right now,” he joked be­fore Mon­day’s work­out.

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