Cleveland — LeBron James figured he had experienced everything in 12 postseasons.
Turns out, there was something new.
Victor Oladipo scored 32 points and Indiana outplayed Cleveland from the start while pulling off a stunning 98-80 victory Sunday in the series opener, handing James and the Cavaliers’ their first loss in the opening round in eight years.
It also was the first playoff-opening loss for James, who came in 12-0 in Game 1s and didn’t realize he had been perfect starting the postseason.
“Is it?” James said. “I’ve never lost a game in the first round before in my career?
But while he knows the narrative before Wednesday’s Game 2 will be on the struggles of Cleveland’s playoff newcomers, James isn’t worried.
“I’m down 0-1 in the first round,” he said. “I was down 3-1 in the Finals. So, I’m the last guy to ask about how you’re going to feel the next couple days.”
The Pacers are feeling confident after beating the Cavs for fourth time this season.
Indiana took control from the outset, opening a 21-point lead in the first quarter and pushing it to 23 in the third. The Cavs got within seven in the fourth, but Oladipo, once a role player who has blossomed into an All-Star in his first season with Indiana, hit a big 3-pointer and Bojan Bogdanovic helped put Cleveland away with a 3 to make it 88-71.
When the final horn sounded, the Pacers didn’t celebrate or run around the floor like they had accomplished anything special.
They calmly walked off, business as usual.
“We believe that we can win,” Oladipo said. “We came into this game with a mentality that we wanted to attack on both ends of the floor and play the way we’ve been playing all year, and we did a great job of that. It’s only one game, it’s only Game 1.”
The Pacers completely outplayed the three-time defending conference champions, whose turbulent regular season has carried over into the playoffs.
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.
“They were more aggressive,” James said. “They just played inspired basketball and they just took advantage of everything we wanted to try and do. They were more physical than us at the point of attack, and they were most precise with what they wanted to do and we couldn’t score the ball.”
Cleveland went just 8 of 34 on 3-pointers and missed eight of 20 free throws.
The Cavs’ playoff theme is: “Whatever It Takes.”
Well, it’s now going to take a first-round comeback.
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, and Indiana’s players are battling critics who say they can’t compete with Cleveland.
“We were definitely mad,” Stephenson said. “They still don’t believe. We’re just going to keep proving everyone wrong and play together.”
While some fans are getting their first look at Oladipo, the Pacers have seen this before.
“On this team, we all know what Victor can do when he steps on the court,” Thaddeus Young said. “You’ve got to double-team him because he makes good decisions with the basketball. When you don’t, you saw what he’s capable of.”
Oladipo said Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert provided him with extra motivation, citing his offseason remark that Indiana should have received better talent from Oklahoma City in return for Paul George. “You could say it added fuel to the fire,” Oladipo said. “I’m aware of what he said. Can’t control his opinion.”
MORE EASTERN CONFERENCE
(At) Boston 113, Milwaukee 107, OT: Al Horford had 24 points and 12 rebounds and Boston overcame Khris Middleton’s long 3 that beat the fourth-quarter buzzer to top Milwaukee in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series.
The Celtics led 99-96 with 0.5 seconds left in regulation when Middleton took an inbounds pass on the far right wing and hit a contested 35-footer.
Terry Rozier added 23 points, four rebounds and three assists for Boston in his first career playoff start. Jaylen Brown finished with 20 points, and rookie Jayson Tatum added 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 35 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists before fouling out in overtime. Middleton had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Boston.
(At) Houston 104, Minnesota 101: James Harden scored 44 points and powered a big fourth-quarter run that allowed the Rockets to outlast the Timberwolves in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series.
Minnesota scored four straight points to get within 3 with about 30 seconds left. Chris Paul added two free throws after that for Houston, but a tip-in by Karl-Anthony Towns got Minnesota back within 3. After a bad pass by Paul gave the Timberwolves a chance to tie it with 1.5 seconds left, Jimmy Butler’s shot was short.
The Timberwolves had a one-point lead with about seven minutes left when Houston used a 9-0 run, with the last seven points from Harden, to make it 94-86 with about four minutes to go. Harden, who also had a steal in that span, capped the run with a 3-pointer that prompted Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau to call a timeout.
Jeff Teague ended Minnesota’s scoring drought with two free throws after the timeout and added a 3-point play after a basket by Harden. Harden made another shot to give him 11 straight points for Houston before another basket by Teague.
Harden got Capela in on the scoring after that, finding him for an alley-oop that pushed the lead to 101-93 with less than three minutes left.
The top-seeded Rockets had their hands full with the No. 8 Timberwolves on a night where Houston made just 10 of 37 3-pointers. Harden made 7 of 12 3-pointers, but Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Paul combined to make just 3 of their 22 tries.
(At) Oklahoma City 116, Utah 108: Paul George scored 36 points to help Oklahoma City beat Utah in Game 1 of the Western Conference series.
George set an Oklahoma City playoff record with eight 3-pointers, blowing past the previous record of five. He made 8 of 11 shots from long range, and 13 of 20 shots overall. It was his first playoff game with the Thunder since being acquired in a trade with Indiana in the offseason.
Russell Westbrook had 29 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, and Carmelo Anthony added 15 points for the Thunder Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell had 27 points and 10 rebounds, but he left in the second half with left foot soreness. He returned in the fourth quarter but was noticeably hobbling.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
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