CLEVELAND — The effort was there. The intensity was there. The shot-making was there. But, in the NBA Playoffs, there are no “moral victories”.
Which is why the Indiana Pacers find themselves trailing the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers 1-0 after a heartbreaking Game 1 loss Saturday afternoon, 109-108.
Paul George carried the Pacers to the finish line with 29 points and seven assists in 41 minutes, but had the ball forced out of his hands on the final possession by a double-team, leaving C.J. Miles as the open option to take the potential game-winner, which fell just short.
“I talked to C.J. about it,” George said afterward. “In situations like that I gotta get the last shot.”
“We kind of felt they would try to trap (Paul) and they did,” Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said. “We’ve prepared for teams double-teaming Paul in that situation, but we just didn’t execute that last play.”
Anybody but Paul George can take that last (shot) and we’ll live with it,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “Coach did a great job of calling one of our sets that we run every single day and we executed.”
James led the Cavaliers with game-highs of 32 points and 13 assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and two key steals late in the fourth quarter.
Indiana trailed for the majority of the game, including by as much as 12 late in the third quarter after a 10-0 Cavaliers run. But a Jeff Teague 3-pointer with 3:31 remaining gave the Pacers their first lead since the first quarter.
A 6-0 Cleveland run pushed the Cavaliers to a 109-105 lead, before George drilled a long 3-pointer to pull Indiana back to within one with 40 seconds left. LeBron James missed a jump shot on the other end, setting up Indiana’s opportunity to win the game on the final possession.
The Pacers struggled mightily on defense during the first half, with James, Irving and Kevin Love combining for 44 of Cleveland’s 66 first half points. The Cavaliers shot 60 percent through the first three quarters.
“We just gotta challenge them,” George said. “It’s gut-checking time. I don’t think we did that.”
Lance Stephenson was instrumental in the Pacer comeback down the stretch, finishing with 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists for the game.
The loss leaves Indiana still needing to pick up at least one win in Cleveland, starting with Game 2 on Monday night, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena.
“The next game is a must-win for us,” Jeff Teague said. “We have to take care of business.”
Austin Miller is the Indiana Pacers beat reporter for the Indiana Sports Report and student at Butler University and is recognized as an accredited member of the media and has full media access. Follow @MillerTimeXII and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter for Pacers coverage all season long.
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