LeBron James attempted no shots in the first 10 minutes of Game 1.
Less than half that long into Game 2, he scored all of the Cavaliers’ points as they built a 16-1 lead over the Pacers.
LeBron dominated early, and Cleveland held on for a 100-97 Game 2 win Wednesday. The first-round series is now tied 1-1 with Game 3 Friday in Indiana.
LeBron finished with 46 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals. It was his highest-scoring playoff game in his second Cavs tenure.
More than any point since he left Cleveland for the Heat, LeBron’s team is built for him to carry it singlehandedly. He was obviously always the leader and best player, but at times, he could let Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving cook. Now, LeBron has no teammates worth deferring to – only teammates who can flourish when LeBron positions them to succeed.
LeBron showed a willingness to accept that challenge tonight in a way he didn’t even in Game 1, when he had a triple-double. That bodes well for the Cavaliers as they undertake what they hope will be a long playoff run – and maybe even as they approach LeBron’s free agency.
But as well as LeBron played tonight, the Pacers battled back. Victor Oladipo missed a game-tying 3-pointer with 27 seconds left after Cleveland blew its coverage and left him open.
“We got lucky,” LeBron said. “We gave up a wide-open 3 to Oladipo, and he missed it. I’d rather be on time and on target than being lucky.”
Cleveland was also fortunate with Pacers coach Nate McMillan’s handling of Victor Oladipo’s early foul trouble.
McMillan sat Oladipo just more than a minute into the game. Oladipo picked up two quick fouls, one offensive – more fluky than indicative of a problem. During the regular season, Oladipo committed four fouls (necessary at that point to foul out tonight) every 58 minutes he played. Oladipo returned in the second quarter but got pulled again midway through the period with a third foul, a questionable call as Kevin Love jumped sideways into him on a shot. Oladipo committed three fouls (necessary at that point to foul out) every 44 minutes during the regular season.
Oladipo finished with three fouls. Indiana was +11 points in his 28 minutes and -14 points in the 20 minutes he sat.
That could bode well for the Pacers going forward. Many of the Cavs’ advantages tonight might not continue throughout the series. In particular, Kevin Love left the game late with a thumb injury.
But Cleveland’s biggest advantage remains: LeBron James. He showed tonight just how much that still matters.