By TYLER SMITH (@TylerSmith_ISL)
INDIANAPOLIS — It was the entire Pacers season summed up in one game.
One minute, they look like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The next minute, they look like they forgot how to play basketball.
With the chance to make it a series against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pacers put together a historic first half. Unfortunately, they followed that up with a historic collapse in the second.
Here are the numbers: The Pacers led 74-49 at halftime. It was the most points in any playoff half in franchise history. It was also the most points a LeBron James team had ever given up in any playoff half. Bankers Life Fieldhouse was rocking, and it felt like this had the chance of turning into a deep series.
And then, LeBron James happened.
And Cavalier 3-pointers happened. And happened again. And again. And again.
The Cavs outscored the Pacers 35-17 in the third quarter. They came all the way back to take the lead at 100-98 before eventually winning 119-114 in front of a stunned Indianapolis crowd. It was the largest halftime deficit resulting in a win in playoff history.
Cleveland made 12-of-21 from behind the arc in the second half, and finished the game shooting 21-of-44 from three.
LeBron James scored 41 points to go along with 13 rebounds and 12 assists. “We knew we had to take one of their punches, but they gave us a flurry,” James said. “At halftime I told the guys we just needed to get some stops. You can’t make up a 26-point deficit all at once. Once we got some stops, we got our composure, and it gave us the momentum.”
For the Pacers, it was another monster night from Paul George that still resulted in a loss. George scored 36 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and dished out nine assists. In his last 10 playoff games, Paul George has averaged 28.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game.. yet the Pacers are just 3-7 in those games.
“We slowed the game down, and that gives a team momentum,” George said. “Here we are up 26 with a chance to step on their throats, and we came out relaxed. We didn’t make anything tough, and we can’t do that.”
The Pacers have been right there in every game of the series. All three games have been within five points. But Indiana still trails 3-0, with Game 4 coming Sunday afternoon.
“It comes down to who will show up and fight to win a game,” said Pacers coach Nate McMillan. “It’s going to be a test of our character. I expect us to lay it all on the line for 48 minutes on Sunday to try and extend this series.”
Paul George added: “We’ve got to go down swinging. Hopefully we can learn from how we ended the season, where we had to win every game to stay alive. Not just Game 4, but this whole series, we’ve got to look at this whole series as it’s still very winnable.”
All season long, the Pacers have done the opposite of what you’d expect, both good and bad. Maybe that means a win on Sunday.