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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Pacers guard Victor Oladipo attempts to strip the ball from Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the first half of Sunday's game in Cleveland. Oladipo scored 32 points, while James finished with 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Monday, April 16, 2018 1:00 am

Indiana 98 Cleveland 80

James remains confident after Pacers take Game 1

TOM WITHERS | Associated Press

Schedule

Who: Cleveland vs. Indiana

What: Eastern Conference first round

Series: Pacers lead 1-0

Game 1: Indiana 98, Cleveland 80

Game 2: 7 p.m. Wednesday at Cleveland

Game 3: 7 p.m. Friday at Indiana

Game 4: 8:30 p.m. Sunday at Indiana

Game 5: TBA April 25 at Cleveland*

Game 6: TBA April 27 at Indiana*

Game 7: TBA April 29 at Cleveland*

* If necessary

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 early, 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 3-pointer and Bojan Bogdanovic helped put Cleveland away with a 3 to make it 88-71.

“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 postseason 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. He 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.