Indiana aims to build on Game 1 road win
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.