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Two rights trump one wrong for Pacers

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

If you recall my epically bad assessment of the Pacers’ 2017 offseason and stopped reading this year’s follow-up, I wouldn’t blame you. I gave Indiana an ‘F’ for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis then constructing a roster that appeared doomed to miss the playoffs without landing a high draft pick. Of course, the Pacers had one of the NBA’s very best summers. Oladipo became a star and led Indiana to 48 wins. The Pacers even took the Cavaliers to seven games in their first-round series – the furthest an Eastern Conference team had pushed LeBron James in several years. I learned a lesson in overreacting.

But I once again see Indiana’s offseason as a tale of extremes.

The Pacers had two of the NBA’s best signings and one of its worst.

Evans is coming off a career year with the Grizzlies. Developing into a good 3-point shooter increases his value exponentially due to the off-ball threat. His playmaking will be particularly important in Indiana, as he could punish opponents for trapping Oladipo, a common Cleveland tactic in their playoff series.

O’Quinn is a savvy defender who strikes the right balance between protecting the rim and positioning himself for rebounds. He shoots well from mid-range and has become more comfortable as a passer.

And then there’s McDermott. He’s a very good spot-up shooter, but he’s pretty one-dimensional and a complete defensive liability. The 26-year-old should help this team. But at that cost? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Really, the question looming over the Pacers’ offseason was opportunity cost.

They also guaranteed hefty salaries for Bojan Bogdanovic ($10.5 million) and Darren Collison ($10 million) next season. Could that money have gone to better use? Or would waiving Bogdanovic and Collison and trying to re-sign them for less have just presented too much risk of them leaving?

Could Indiana have done better than Aaron Holiday with the No. 23 pick? He’s relatively established for a rookie after three years at UCLA, but higher-upside options were available.

The Pacers played it safe and emerged with an upgraded version of last year’s breakout squad. The only rotation players lost were Lance Stephenson and Trevor Booker. Evans and O’Quinn should be major upgrades. That makes McDermott just – very expensive – gravy.

Indiana is on track to enter next offseason with a massive amount of flexibility. Oladipo and McDermott are the only players guaranteed more than rookie-scale salaries, though Myles Turner could receive a contract extension this fall.

If the Pacers build on last season as they appear set to, they could be even more appealing to free agents next summer.

Offseason grade: B+

LeBron James scores 45 as Cavaliers edge Pacers in Game 7

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The best team may not have won on Sunday as the Indiana Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers played in a deciding Game 7, but the most impressive player certainly did. In a stunning performance, LeBron James played 43 minutes as The King advanced yet again while the Cavaliers beat the Pacers, 105-101.

The game started quick for Cleveland as they jumped out to an impressive 31-19 lead after one quarter. Indiana’s defense struggled, and their offense reverted to some of their worst habits — poor ball movement, one-on-one dribbling, and a lack of rebounding. The Pacers settled in the second quarter as Darren Collison helped lead the way.

Indiana remained unafraid of the Cavaliers as they have all series long. Despite needing to surmount an 11-point lead to start the third quarter, the Pacers rallied back. Their offense looked more fluid, and their switches on defense pristine. Indiana finally took the lead off an Oladipo steal and quick outlet to Bogdanovic with 7:12 left, setting the table for an exciting finish at The Q.

Cleveland fans had to hold their collective breath to end the third quarter as James exited the game for the first time to head back to the locker room. He soon returned to the bench for the start of the fourth, and reports from the sideline were that he was suffering from cramps. Perhaps the most critical stretch of the game for Indiana came with James out of the lineup. The Pacers failed to make up any ground with LeBron out, and when he finally did check back in 8:25 the game felt all but decided.

Kevin Love was magnificent, particularly in the fourth quarter where he scored eight of his 14 points. Love hit clutch 3-pointers and midrange jumpers as the Pacers rotational defense began to break down. Indiana’s defensive chances took another hit when Myles Turner fouled out on a questionable call with 4:33 to go in the fourth.

The deciding plays of the game came three minutes to go. Bojan Bogdanovic lost his handle on a ball, creating a scoring opportunity that the Cavaliers turned into free throws. Oladipo would hit a jumper 30 seconds later, but Collison missed an opportunity to hit a 3-pointer and make it 98-95 in favor of the Cavaliers with two minutes remaining. Domantas Sabonis fouled LeBron on the rebound, and Indiana never recovered.

Oladipo led the way for the Pacers with 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting, adding 12 rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Collison provided 23 points and two assists. Bogdanovic, a strong performer for Indiana throughout the series, was limited to just three points.

For Cleveland it was all James, who scored 45 points to go with nine rebounds and seven assists. Tristan Thompson finished with 15 points on five-of-six shooting, grabbing 10 rebounds. LeBron’s 45 points are the second-most all-time in a Game 7 of the playoffs.

They probably don’t deserve it, but the Cavaliers are moving on to the next round to face the Toronto Raptors. Game 1 will be in Canada on Tuesday, May 1 at 5 p.m. PST.

LeBron James doing all he can, detonates dunk on Pacers’ defense (VIDEO)

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Indiana is getting more out of Victor Oladipo early and making enough plays in the first half to have a lead in the second quarter over Cleveland.

It’s not that LeBron James isn’t trying — he is once again carrying the Cavaliers as far as he can. That includes a monster dunk on the Pacers and Domantas Sabonis.

LeBron is a beast. The question is will that be enough in Game 6?

Pacers stun LeBron James, beat Cavaliers by 18 in Game 1

AP
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CLEVELAND (AP) Victor Oladipo scored 32 points and the Indiana Pacers held off Cleveland’s second-half rally for a stunning 98-80 victory Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series, handing LeBron James and the Cavaliers’ their first loss in the opening round in eight years.

Indiana was in control from the outset, opening a 21-point lead in the first quarter and leading by 23 in the third. The Cavs stormed back and got within seven, but Oladipo hit a big 3-pointer and Bojan Bogdanovic helped put Cleveland away with a 3 to make it 88-71.

The Pacers completely outplayed the three-time defending conference champions, whose turbulent regular season has carried over into the playoffs.

Game 2 is Wednesday night.

James scored 24 with 12 assists and 10 rebounds for his 20th career triple-double. But James got little help as Cleveland’s four other starters – Kevin Love, Jeff Green, Rodney Hood and George Hill – combined for 25 points.

This is all new to James, who had won 21 consecutive first-round games and lost a postseason for the first time in his 13th playoffs. The 33-year-old is trying to get to his eighth straight Finals, and already the path is tougher than imagined.

Cleveland had won 14 straight first-round games, last losing on April 22, 2010, the last season of James’ first stint with the Cavs.

Indiana was swept by Cleveland in last year’s opening round. Those Pacers, though, didn’t have Oladipo or the balance of this Indy squad, which may lack experience but not confidence.

Lance Stephenson, a longtime playoff nemesis for James, helped set the tone in the first quarter with a dunk he punctuated by throwing several punches into the padded basket stanchion.

The Pacers took the fight to the Cavs. They were more physical, more energetic and more composed.

Oladipo has become one of the NBA’s rising stars, and after being a role player in Oklahoma City, he’s Indiana’s main attraction and looked like a seasoned star on the playoff stage. He made six 3-pointers, swiped the ball from James on two occasions and more than doubled his previous playoff scored high of 15.

The Cavs fell behind 33-12 during a strange first quarter that included Cleveland missing all eight 3-pointers, James not attempting his first field goal until 1:52 remained and fans in Quicken Loans Arena wondering what they were seeing.

As he does for every postseason, James shuts down all social media activities, a routine he calls Zero Dark 23 Mode. And this time, he began it Saturday by posting a quote on Instagram from Martin Luther King Jr: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”

The Pacers drove him into a darker place.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Only have two starters — Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young – from the team Cleveland swept last year. … Oladipo wasn’t seen as a franchise-changing player when Indiana acquired him along with Domantas Sabonis in the trade for Paul George. However, coach Nate McMillan said the guard wanted to prove himself and did with hard work. “He’s a very coachable kid,” McMillan said. “We’ve had many film sessions and one-on-one sessions to try to improve and he’s shown that. This is a different season, a good opportunity for him to show where he’s at again.”… Indiana came in 15-6 in the playoffs when it wins the opener. The Pacers are 4-18 wheb losing Game 1.

Cavaliers: James surpassed Michael Jordan (2,188) for the second-most made field goals in playoff history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2,356) tops the list. … James dropped to 48-8 in first-round games. … Coach Tyronne Lue started Hood over Kyle Korver, who has lingering soreness in his right foot and was on a minutes’ restriction. Korver played just four minutes. … Green was 0-for-7 from the field, 0-for-3 from the line and the Cavs were outscored by 15 when he was on the floor.

UP NEXT

Game 2 is Wednesday night.

Victor Oladipo helps Pacers top Heat in OT to clinch playoff spot

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Victor Oladipo had 23 points and five assists to help the Indiana Pacers clinch a playoff berth with a 113-107 overtime victory over the Miami Heat on Sunday.

Thaddeus Young had 22 points, nine rebounds and five steals, and Bojan Bogdanovic added 18 points and eight rebounds for the Pacers, who secured their seventh appearance in the postseason in the last eight seasons.

Tyler Johnson made five 3-pointers and finished with 19 points, James Johnson had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Bam Adebayo added 14 points for the Heat, who split the four-game season series.

Darren Collison finished with 12 points, made the go ahead 3-pointer to put the Pacers ahead 101-100 with 2:49 remaining in overtime, and Indiana scored 11 straight points to pull away. The Pacers took a 109-102 lead with Collison’s 3-pointer with 55 seconds left to play.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra missed the first game of his career, leaving Indianapolis on Saturday after learning his wife Nikki was entering labor. Assistant coach Dan Craig filled in and Spoelstra is expected to return for Miami’s home game against Cleveland on Tuesday.

Indiana trailed by 14 in the first half and went on a 9-1 run late in the second quarter to take a 50-46 lead on Oladipo’s jumper with 2:22 remaining in the half.

The Heat then scored seven straight, including a dunk and two free throws by Adebayo. And James Johnson’s free throw gave with under a second left gave Miami a 53-52 halftime lead.

The Heat came back from an eight-point deficit in the second half. Johnson forced overtime with a free throw with 8.3 seconds left in regulation.

TIP-INS

Heat: Miami had 10 turnovers in the first half and finished with 17 overall. . Tyler Johnson had 12 points in the first quarter alone. . Adebayo also had five rebounds.

Pacers: Indiana shot 66.7 percent in the overtime period and 48.9 percent overall. … Forward Domantas Sabonis was out for a sixth straight game with a left sprained ankle.

UP NEXT

Heat: Host Cleveland on Tuesday.

Pacers: At Golden State on Tuesday for the first of a four-game west coast trip.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball