LeBron James has been to seven consecutive NBA Finals but that streak could be in a bit of danger as James’ Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves down 2-1 in their first round series against the Indiana Pacers.
As the series stays in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for Game 4 (Sunday, April 22 @ 8:30 PM ET), James will have to be at his playoff best to avoid going into a 3-1 hole.
However, even that might not be enough as James scored 46 in Game 2, which if not for a couple of bad bounces and missed opportunities, very well could have gone the Pacers way. Indiana lost by just three points, showing most importantly that they are a legitimate foe to Cleveland’s chances to repeat as the perennial winners of the Eastern Conference. As for the Cavaliers losing in the first round, it doesn’t happen often – this was the first time in eight years. James has never lost in the first round.
Game 1 – Pacers Snap 21-Straight First Round Wins for LeBron
LeBron James has been in the league for 14 years and he’s made the playoffs in 13 of them. And as touched upon earlier in this preview, he doesn’t lose many of these games especially early on. Accustomed to the first or second seed, James and the Cavaliers found themselves in the middle of the pack in the conference this year. That meant a tough first round matchup against the fifth-seeded Pacers.
Entering this game, James had won an NBA record 21 straight first round games, an incredible mark. For that reason, it was surprising that not only did the Cavaliers lose and at home no less, but they did so by 18 points. Cleveland never looked particularly comfortable and really struggled to get going. James, who had a triple double, was the only starter in double-figures. His 24 points were low by James’ standards.
Victor Oladipo dazzled, scoring 32 points and finishing the game with a plus/minus of +21. All of Indiana’s scorers recording plus/minuses of +14 or higher with two others, not including Oladipo, scoring in double figures as well. Simply put, Cleveland was outplayed from the start, allowing the Pacers to hand James his first initial-game loss in his career.
Game 2 – Cleveland Strikes Back but Just Barely
James came out firing in the second game of the series. Putting the team on his back, James scored 46 points and added 12 rebounds. This wasn’t a story of a dominant comeback win. Rather, the Cavaliers just barely managed to hold off the Pacers, fortunate that Oladipo missed a wide-open three to tie the game with just under 30 seconds left.
Oladipo once again led his team in scoring with 22 points and was joined on the list of double-digit scorers by Myles Turner and Darren Collison. All three men shot at a 50 percent or higher clip as well, missing a total of just 18 out of 41 shots. For Cleveland, James was joined by Kevin Love and Kyle Korver in double digits.
Game 3 – Bogdanovic Can’t Miss; Pacers Win First At Home
Losing by three in Game 2 was unfortunate for the Pacers but it wasn’t disconcerting. The team almost withheld James scoring 46 and for Indiana, that must have offered some level of comfort. At his best, James just barely beat them, an outcome that the Pacers had every intention to avoid in Game 3.
That seemed in doubt however, as the Pacers entered the half down 17 points. Against a LeBron James-led team, coming back from that kind of deficit had previously only been the stuff of legends. Spurred on by the home crowd, Indiana did the unthinkable and slowly erased the deficit. This marked the first time this season, in 39 prior occasions, that Cleveland lost a game when leading after three quarters.
A large part of the comeback was due to a phenomenal, almost can’t-miss shooting performance of Bojan Bogdanovic, who was lights out from three point range. Bogdanovic scored a playoff career-high 30 points, 19 of which came in the second half and 21 of which came courtesy of a 7-of-9 performance from beyond the arc. He also had six rebounds and seven assists.
Ultimately, the Cavs were outscored 52-33 in the final two quarters, a performance that James himself couldn’t overcome. Twice, he almost brought his team back but Bogdanovic shot much too well in the closing minutes for even one of the league’s best players to overcome the deficit.
Game 4 Preview & Predictions
Indiana has done what most teams haven’t been able to do against Cleveland in years, and that is have some pretty good success against them. In the regular season, the Pacers took three of four and now up 2-1 in the playoffs, they have taken five of their last seven against the Cavaliers. Additionally, Indiana is 3-0 against the Cavaliers at home this year. The friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse will be center stage for Game 4, where if the Pacers home track record stands up, they will leave James and the Cavs in semi-unfamiliar territory.
Of course, it’s hard to forget that Cleveland came back from a 3-1 deficit before, to go on to win the NBA Finals. That was a different team but it had James on it and as long as James is there, the Cavaliers should never be counted out.
That doesn’t mean Cleveland shouldn’t feel a sense of this being a must-win game because they should and because it is. Indiana matches up well against Cleveland, perhaps better than any other team the Cavs could face this postseason. Indiana has a rare ability to limit James’ production and with it, almost completely shutting down the rest of Cleveland’s offense. James can score 40 and the Cavs could still lose, as they almost did in Game 2, if the rest of the team doesn’t start to contribute. James refused to blame his teammates but it’s clear they are what is holding the Cavaliers back so far.
Our Preview’s Cavs at Pacers Game 4 Picks & Betting Predictions
- The Cavaliers are favored by one point with most of the American sportsbooks, which is simply because of the LeBron James factor. That being said, the LeBron James factor is real. If James can take over the game, the Cavaliers can win. If he can’t, they won’t. Indiana has played well this series but expect the Cavs to even things out at two games apiece. One or two firms have the spread at ‘pk’ (‘pick ‘em’) and that means there is no spread. We advise betting on the Cavs and the best option is to back Cleveland at pk @ best odds of -110 with Bookmaker.
- Our other prediction is to look for the total points for this game to fall under the mark set by the bookies, that is generally 205pts (with Bovada and 5Dimes) but once again the best choice for this pick is to go under 205.5pts @ -110 with Bookmaker.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.