The Pacers will be in that position if they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 on Sunday night. And it’ll be then, according to Indiana guard Lance Stephenson, that there will be some nervousness coming from the Cavaliers. James is 12-0 all time in the first round of the playoffs.
“We have full control right now,” Stephenson said after practice Saturday. “We have to keep it. We get another win in our building, and that’s when I think they’re going to start panicking. We’re going to bring it like we [brought] it the first game.”
The Pacers have faced a team with James on it during the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017 playoffs, with James playing with the Miami Heat in the first three playoff series. The Pacers had a 2-1 lead in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals only to lose three straight and be knocked out of the playoffs. That’s why Indiana knows it can’t afford to lose Game 4 and give the Cavaliers home-court advantage in the series again.
“Our goal is to stay together, try to contain LeBron, play team defense,” Stephenson said. “That team is a good team. I don’t think they’re going to get frustrated.”
The Pacers, who have shown resiliency all season, went from lacking toughness in the first half to come from 17 points down at halftime to beat the Cavaliers 92-90 in Game 3. It has been a game of runs between the two teams in every game in the series. The Pacers had it in Game 1, the Cavaliers had it in Game 2, and they shared it in Game 3, with Indiana having it last.
“I think we’re getting better,” Pacers All-Star guard Victor Oladipo said. “Teams make adjustments between games. We did a great job of adjusting in the second half. I think our best basketball is still to come.”
The Cavaliers scored only 12 points in the third quarter of Game 3 and lost a game for the first time, including in the playoffs, when leading heading into the fourth quarter (40-1).
“I think the want is definitely there,” Cleveland’s Kevin Love said. “I thought we were very spirited in that first half, we were very aggressive. Honestly, I just thought, especially on the offensive end, the level of physicality picked up on both ends, we were very one-sided, we weren’t getting the ball to the other side of the floor.
“When they can load up, they’re a pretty good team on the defensive end. They’re well-balanced, they play extremely hard. That’s what happened. If [Sunday] goes our way, we even up the series, then we’re right back at it. We have to win this one.”
Cleveland could be without starting point guard and Indianapolis native George Hill in Game 4 to add its problems. Hill is questionable after having an MRI on his back Saturday. Coach Ty Lue didn’t say who would start if Hill doesn’t play.
“I’m encouraged,” Lue said. “They won a game we should’ve won. That’s why the disappointment, because we was up 17, and they come back and win the game. That’s what’s disappointing, but we’re not discouraged. Still got a Game 4, feel very confident that we can come out and win this game, and so do our guys.”