LeBron James was, once again, too much for the Indiana Pacers — knocking them out in Game 7.
The Pacers had an incredible season. ESPN’s preseason projection had them winning 32 games. They won 48 instead, with Victor Oladipo making an All-Star team and single-handedly making the Paul George trade into a balanced deal. They gave the Cavaliers literally everything they could handle in the first round, but ultimately fell short.
Cleveland jumped out to an enormous lead in the first quarter with LeBron going bananas and appearing ready to go the distance. Indiana kept it from getting out of hand and used a strong third quarter to close the gap. However, every team they were within striking distance, the Cavaliers slipped away.
LeBron is still LeBron. This was another epic performance from LeBron — 45 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, four steals, all on 16-of-25 shooting. He was there stop every run, secure every key rebound and knock down every clutch shot. That he can still summon this level of brilliance, for 43 minutes no less, should make Cavaliers’ fans optimistic. The fact that he needed this game to close out a first round series should make them nervous.
Cleveland is much better when it’s not just LeBron. The Cavaliers have been struggling to find steady contributions from the supporting cast to wrap around LeBron, but they got it today when they needed it most. Kevin Love hit 4-of-7 3-pointers and his shooting was clutch in the third quarter, keeping Indiana at arm’s length. Tristan Thompson, who has barely played in this series, had a five huge offensive rebounds and finished with a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double. George Hill didn’t play at all in the first half, but played 19 minutes in the second, contributing 11 points, six rebounds and three assists. They could still use more from Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood but this was a good sign for Cleveland as they prepare to take on Toronto.
The moment was not too big for Victor Oladipo. His struggles in the middle of the series coincided with Cleveland creeping back into things and it raised the specter of his breakout season being a career peak, the kind of blip season that can fool a franchise into building around a player who might not be able to support it down the road. Oladipo bounced back, was sensational in Game 6 and finished with a LeBron-esque 30 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and three steals on 10-of-21 shooting. Oladipo proved in these playoffs that he’s capable of elevating this team. If they can somehow figure out how to add more talent around him, this is a team that could stay in the mix at the top of the Eastern Conference for the next few years.