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    Cavs loss not entirely a stunner. Just the Pacers showing how good they are

    Apr 16, 2018

    CHICAGO - The last time LeBron James lost a first-round NBA playoffs game was May 6, 2012. He has since won 21 straight in this stage of the postseason, including a perfect 12-0 in a Game One.

    All that changed on Sunday (Monday, Manila time) when the King and his court were ran over by a juggernaut with Indiana license plates. The man behind the wheel, Victor Oladipo, was driving under the influence of determination.

    Streaks come to a halt and runs end, that's just the nature of the sporting life.

    But this was bad. So bad that with still 2:26 left to play, many of the Cavs worshipers at the Quicken Loans Arena began a pilgrimage toward the exit doors. 

    Pacers 98. Cavaliers 80.

    As jolting as this result may be, it's neither a miracle nor a mirage. 

    These Pacers are good. In their 48 regular season wins, they beat the Raptors once, the Warriors and the Spurs twice. They also beat the Cavaliers, get this, three times.

    "We've been playing hard at both ends all year, but it's been magnified. Now it's the playoffs and now everyone's seeing it and t's kind of shocking to everybody, I guess you could say," Oladipo said in his post-game press conference.

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      Beyond that modest declaration, Oladipo, 25, didn't say much. His game did most of the talking.

      The No.2 overall pick in the 2013 rookie draft, Oladipo sizzled with 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. He swished 11 of 19 field goals and six of nine triples. With him as the flash point, the Pacers raced to a 33-12 lead that was never relinquished. 

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      According to the Indianapolis Star, the big screen TV inside the Cavs locker room showed the Bucks-Celtics game while the Pacers were watching film on Cleveland's recent loss. Obviously, the Pacers were better prepared and more engaged, resulting in a brilliant defensive effort that held Cleveland to just 38.5 percent shooting from the field and 23.5 percent from three-point range..  

      LeBron carded a triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, but he was curiously timid off the gates. He didn't take a shot until only 1:53 was left in the opening quarter and his team down by 17.   

      If LeBron's initial disinterest was born out of a desire to get his teammates involved in the offense before he takes charge, it backfired badly as the rest of the starters combined for only 25 points. Kevin Love went 3-for-8, Rodney Hood made only 1-of-4 from 3-point distance. George Hill was 3-for-7 with two turnovers and Jeff Green was scoreless, 0-for-7.

      Besides Larry Nance Jr and J.R. Smith, who pooled 21 points between them, the rest of the bench was ineffective. Jordan Clarkson, Jose Calderon and Kyle Korver made only two of 12 shots.

      Oladipo, meanwhile, had plenty of help. Myles Turner gathered 16 points and eight rebounds while Bojan Bogdanovic soldiered his way to 15 points. Lance Stephenson, an old nemesis during LeBron's Heat days, scored 12 points in 17 minutes off the bench.

      Oh, what a difference a year makes.

      Last April, Indiana was swept by Cleveland in the first round. They were dominated and seemed intimidated by the LeBron mystique.

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      Not anymore. Not with Oladipo and this merry brand of scrappy, happy Pacers.

      Once a prisoner in Oklahoma's Russell Westbrook-dominated offense, Oladipo is his own man now. He is thriving in a communal system, free as a bird, beholden only to Indiana's rich basketball tradition and his own personal ambition.

      LeBron is not exactly shaking in his Nikes. He downplayed the debacle and told The Cleveland Plain Dealer, "I've been down 3-1 in the Finals before." 

      There are seven reasons why the King remains cocky. As in seven straight Finals appearances.

      I still think the Cavaliers will eventually win this series. But I also know that these Pacers will give a good fight every second and every minute of every game.

      It's not a false promise. It's Indiana basketball.

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