Lance Stephenson was knocking down 3-pointers and turning to the crowd, yelling “This is my f---ing house!” Paul George had LeBron James shaking his head going down the court after the Pacers' All-Star knocked down another basket during his 21-point second quarter.
It was the start the Pacers needed to make this somewhat of an interesting series again, leading by 25 points at halftime on Thursday night. All they had to do was come out at the start of the second half against the Cavaliers and “put their foot on their throat.”
But as has been the case way too often during their roller-coaster of a season, the Pacers failed to seize the opportunity that was right there for them. They instead crumbled at the hands of James in a 119-114 loss to fall behind 3-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series. The 25-point margin was the largest blown halftime lead in NBA playoff history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“They’re playing through all our punches, and we’re throwing haymakers, and they’re weaving,” Stephenson said. “That’s how it feels.”
Forget thinking about winning the series. The Pacers now have to wonder if they’re good enough to even win a game in the series. Game 4 is this Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
A loss like this can linger mentally on a fragile team like the Pacers, especially after it was James who ended up putting his foot on their throat. If body language was any indication, as James scored 28 of his 41 points in the second half and as the Pacers walked off the court in disbelief, Indiana looks like it could be starting its offseason sometime late Sunday afternoon.
“We’ve been in this situation before where it’s a test of your character and who shows up,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “We’re going into that game not to give them a ‘W’ on Sunday. We’re going in there and trying to extend this and it will show if you’re not playing with that mindset. I expect us to play with that mindset.”
The Pacers were a different team at the start of the third quarter. They lacked the same confidence and didn’t play with the same emotion as in the first half. Their 25-point halftime cushion was down to 15 points barely four minutes into the third quarter.
“Thought early on in the third, I saw it getting out of hand,” George said. “Again, it comes down to trust. I trust the guys on that floor, but I just watched it kind of unravel. That’s when I should have stepped in and demanded the ball a little bit more. Just to start out, get us moving, get us flowing, get everybody in rhythm again and engage everybody once again. I did a poor job of that to start the third.”
The early impressive play from George vanished in the third quarter, just as the Pacers did. He was scoreless, on 0-for-5 shooting, and Indiana as a team shot only 19.2 percent (5-of-26) from the field in the third quarter. The Pacers scored just 40 points in the second half.
“We’re the guys on the court, we have to get the job done, myself included,” George said. “All of us. Again, it’s not me signaling out teammates. We have to do a better job of talking and communicating, knowing where everybody is on the floor.”
Thursday was arguably the ugliest loss in Pacers history and they somehow have to find a way to move past it to extend the series at least one more game and head back to Cleveland for a Game 5.
“Do you want to go home or not? That’s the mentality,” swingman C.J. Miles said. “That’s how you get over it. Do you want to keep playing? That’s pretty much the only thing you can take into the next game.”