The Cavs are in the playoffs for the fourth-straight season and once again they will be playing the Indiana Pacers in the first round. Last year, the Cavs swept Indiana but had some close calls along the way, such as a missed late three-pointer by C.J. Miles in Game 1 and a 25-point second half comeback by the Cavs in Game 3. However, both the Cavs and the Pacers have a new look coming into this matchup. The only returning Cavs from last year’s playoffs are LeBron, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith. Meanwhile, the Pacers exchanged Paul George for Victor Oladipo over the offseason and added Bojan Bogdanovic to replace George at small forward.
Who on the Pacers will be able to give LeBron and the Cavs a run for their money?
Starting with point guard, Darren Collison has been a sneaky stat-sheet filler against the Cavs this season. He scored 20+ points in two of the four games against the Cavs this regular season and had 19 points in another. Collison also dished out the ball fairly well during the season series, averaging 5.5 assists. His greatest weapon this year (surprisingly more than his speed) has been his three-point shooting, where he actually leads the league at 46.8%. While he isn’t the primary offensive threat, he has the ability to score in many ways, such as from beyond the arc or a quick attack to the basket. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him score 20 in one of these playoff games, but don’t expect him to be the deciding factor in a close game as long as his three ball is contained.
Shooting guard Victor Oladipo is the only all-star on the team, but it was well deserved, as he had a career-high in scoring, averaging over 23 points per game. With a PER of 23.12, Oladipo commanded the Pacer offense alongside Collison and is their primary asset in crunch time. He had an astounding regular season versus the Cavs, hitting 17-36 of his threes and averaging 25 points per game while leading the Pacers to a season series victory of 3-1. Victor Oladipo has also upped his defense this season, posting a league-leading 2.4 steals. He is a threat from anywhere on offense. Oladipo can hit long-range shots, is effective with the mid-range and can finish at the basket at will. I would definitely place some concern for the Cavs when it comes to guarding Oladipo, as I question the Cavs’ ability to defend the perimeter and I could see Oladipo scoring 30+ in a game that could turn out to be a Pacers victory.
At small forward, the Pacers have Bojan Bogdanovic and based on the name itself you could assume he has one defining feature of his game that has secured him a spot in the starting lineup. That defining feature is from beyond the three-point line once again, as Bogdanovic made 155 threes this season at just over 40%. He actually underperformed against the Cavs this season, but he is still a cause of concern. Bogdanovic has a trait that only few others in the league possess, such as Klay Thompson and J.R. Smith, and that is being a human microwave. Bogdanovic can ignite for double-digit points in any quarter, but he does most of his damage in the second half, making him particularly deadly in close games. While the Cavs have done a great job containing him so far this season, there is no reason to think Bogdanovic couldn’t light up the scoreboard with 25 points off of seven treys in a game.
Power forward Thaddeus Young has statistically been the least productive player out of the Pacers’ starting lineup. Averaging 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists, Young has slightly regressed since he played for Philadelphia and Brooklyn, but has nonetheless shown consistency for his whole career. Young was not a huge factor for the Pacers during the regular season series other than the first game where he scored 26 points from 12 baskets. Young is more of a traditional power forward as he likes to play fairly close to the basket but can shoot a deep jumper from time to time. Young preferred the long ball against the Cavs, averaging 3.8 attempts per game while only averaging 2.2 for the rest of the season. Yet, Young shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the Cavs to guard on either the perimeter or near the basket and Jeff Green or Larry Nance Jr. should be able to match up well with him.
The final starter for the Pacers is 22-year-old center, Myles Turner. Turner only played in one game against the Cavs this year and he scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and also had three blocks. His injuries this year have hindered his effectiveness, as his averages have dipped below what was expected from him after a promising first two seasons in the league. Turner has added the three-pointer to his repertoire, although he shoots a mediocre 35.7%, and therefore is having a career-low in shooting percentage. While Turner has had his offensive struggles, his defense has also dipped due to his injury, but Turner is still an elite shot blocker with his lengthy build. For a Cavs team with defensive struggles inside, Turner should be a relatively easy big man to contain for Love and Larry Nance Jr.
An asset for the Pacers that cannot be missed is their bench. The Pacers run a 10-man rotation, but primarily give minutes to the starters and three bench players – Domantas Sabonis, Cory Joseph and Lance Stephenson. Sabonis has been particularly troublesome for the Cavs, getting a double-double in three of the four regular-season matchups and getting nine points and nine rebounds in the other. A sixth man of the year candidate, Sabonis is an offensive-minded center who has an incredible mid-range jumper and solid post move scoring that the Cavs can’t seem to prevent. Sabonis needs to be the main focus for the Cavs’ second unit and the Cavs cannot afford losing leads with LeBron off the floor because Sabonis is controlling every possession.
Stephenson lives for playing against LeBron and had one solid outing this regular season off the bench with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Stephenson plays pesky defense and enjoys the spotlight, making him either a rain or shine type of player especially at home in Indiana.
Cory Joseph has some experience playing against the Cavs in the playoffs as the previous backup to Kyle Lowry on the Raptors. He hasn’t been too much of an issue like he was on the Raptors, but he is an above-average backup point guard with shooting range and notable perimeter defense. Lastly, Glenn Robinson III and Trevor Booker round out the bench with typically limited minutes, which we could see during the playoffs when starters stay in the game longer. Booker has bounced around the league as of late after being on Brooklyn last season and Philadelphia this year before getting bought out but remains a competent rebounder and post-presence. Glenn Robinson III is a three-and-D forward who didn’t get any minutes this season until post all-star break and has yet to suit up against the Cavs.
I still doubt that the Pacers could win more than one game versus the Cavs if any wins at all. If the Pacers do give the Cavs trouble, I expect the source to come from either Oladipo, Bogdanovic, or Sabonis off the bench. The Cavs should be able to hold off Myles Turner and keep Collison under his absurd three-point shooting percentage. Everyone else on the Pacers I don’t see as being a threat to the Cavs long-term, but this is the NBA where unusual things can happen, so I won’t rule out any player from having a career game. It’s that time of the year when the games matter most; let’s hope the Cavs don’t forget this in the first round.