Unaccustomed to 1st-round holes, LeBron needs win at Pacers
LeBron James is keeping his thoughts to himself.
Whatever concerns — or confidence — he might harbor about his Cleveland Cavaliers facing a 2-1 first-round Eastern Conference series hole heading into Game 4 at the Indiana Pacers on Sunday were not going to be made available for public consumption.
James decided not to speak to reporters on Saturday.
And he did not have a whole lot to say in the immediate aftermath of Game 3, either, when Indiana erased a 17-point deficit and then held on for a 92-90 victory over the Cavs.
Not only has the four-time MVP and three-time NBA champ never lost an opening NBA postseason series, going 12-0 in the past, he had never even trailed in the first round until this one, when Cleveland dropped Game 1 at home.
Now he is behind again.
“We’ve had some good quarters,” James said Friday, “and we didn’t have some good quarters.”
Well, that explains a lot.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue’s synopsis?
“They won a game we should have won,” Lue said. “That’s what’s disappointing. But we’re not discouraged. We’ve got to get Game 4 — and I’m confident.”
In addition to Cavaliers-Pacers on Sunday, the day’s other NBA games are the Boston Celtics at the Milwaukee Bucks, the Golden State Warriors at the San Antonio Spurs, and the Toronto Raptors at the Washington Wizards.
A look at Sunday’s full slate of NBA playoff games:
CELTICS AT BUCKS
Boston leads 2-1. Game 4, 1 p.m. EDT, ABC
NEED TO KNOW: Good as All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo is, the Bucks are getting major contributions from Khris Middleton, who is giving the Celtics headaches with his mid-range jumper and all-around game. Middleton is averaging 26.3 points in the series, while shooting 62 percent overall, 12 of 19 on 3s. “For me, it’s about seeing the offense, finding my spots to be aggressive,” Middleton said. “Just playing in rhythm.”
KEEP AN EYE ON: The first quarter. Veteran forward Al Horford hopes the young Celtics can take lessons from their disastrous start in Game 3 , when Boston was outscored 27-12 in the opening period and never recovered. Boston was flat in front of a raucous road crowd, overwhelmed by an energetic Bucks team that received contributions from up and down the roster. “This is new for our group,” Horford said. “We’ll look at film and learn from it.”
PRESSURE IS ON: One of the NBA’s best defensive teams in the regular season, the Celtics have been overrun by the Bucks of late. Milwaukee shot 57 percent in each of the last two games, making a franchise playoff-record 16 3s in Game 3.
INJURY UPDATE: It’s unclear whether Bucks C John Henson will be ready after sitting out Game 3 with a bad back. … Celtics G Marcus Smart will see a doctor again next week to determine when he can return to full-contact practice.
WARRIORS AT SPURS
Golden State leads 3-0. Game 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC
NEED TO KNOW: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will sit out a second game in the aftermath of his wife’s death. Assistant Ettore Messina coached San Antonio in Game 3 and will again in Game 4. “You know how important Pop is, not only for us players, but the whole organization and the whole NBA,” Manu Ginobili said. “We probably are in a better situation emotionally, and hopefully it fuels us. But it’s hard to tell how a team is going to react.”
KEEP AN EYE ON: Ginobili. The 40-year-old could be playing in his last NBA game. Spurs fans serenaded Ginobili in last season’s Western Conference finale, believing it could be his farewell. It wasn’t. Ginobili says he will wait until the offseason to decide whether to return for a 17th season. “It was super awkward,” Ginobili said. “I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I didn’t want to ignore it.”
PRESSURE IS ON: Anyone on San Antonio other than LaMarcus Aldridge. The All-Star forward is averaging 22 points in the series, and has been the team’s only consistent scorer. San Antonio needs someone else to step up.
INJURY UPDATE: Golden State is without Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard remains out for San Antonio. Both have knee issues. Leonard missed all but nine regular-season games.
RAPTORS AT WIZARDS
Toronto leads 2-1. Game 4, 6 p.m. EDT, TNT
NEED TO KNOW: As long as all the chippiness and on-court chatter that showed up in Game 3 doesn’t lead to any real fights moving forward, this series could be mainly about the two terrific All-Star backcourts, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry of No. 1 seed Toronto vs. John Wall and Bradley Beal of No. 8 Washington. And each duo has performed much better at home than on the road. Wall and Beal each scored 28 points in a Game 3 win , while the Wizards shot 55.3 percent on field-goal attempts, the third-best playoff showing in franchise history.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Turnovers and bench scoring. Those were two of the Raptors’ strengths in the regular season, but both were huge issues in Game 3, when Toronto’s 19 turnovers led to 28 points for Washington, and the Wizards’ sometimes-unreliable reserve unit outscored their counterparts 35-32. “We had some turnovers that are just our fault, that we really shouldn’t have — we can’t have,” Toronto reserve Jakob Poeltl said.
PRESSURE IS ON: Otto Porter Jr. As much as the Wizards dominated in a 122-103 victory Friday, they still train in the series and can’t afford to head to Toronto trailing 3-1. So now that Beal has awoken and joined Wall in being effective, it’s Porter’s turn to produce. He’s averaging only 9.7 ppg and has made a total of only three 3s after ranking third in the league in 3-point percentage in the regular season. “It falls on everybody,” Porter said. “Me being more aggressive. Me getting more involved, getting open.”
INJURY UPDATE: Raptors PG Fred VanVleet has played a total of only three minutes in the series, troubled by a bruised right shoulder. His absence could be a big reason that Toronto’s second unit has not been as effective as usual.
CAVALIERS AT PACERS
Indiana leads 2-1. Game 4, 8:30 p.m., TNT
NEED TO KNOW: Cleveland is 0-3 at Indiana so far this season. So even though James’ teams have eliminated the Pacers four times in their last seven postseason appearances, the Cavs have some work cut out for themselves.
KEEP AN EYE ON: James’ supporting cast. He’s been his typical self through the first three games, but that hasn’t been enough to create more wins than losses. The Cavaliers are averaging just 90 points in the series and had trouble holding leads. Could the second-half struggles be a result of James’ logging more than 41 minutes per game? Perhaps. But this is supposed to be the time of year when he carries his club, no matter what help he gets — or doesn’t.
PRESSURE IS ON: Lue. While his lineup change worked wonders early in Games 2 and 3, the Cavs couldn’t close out either and nearly blew both. Now he needs to find another adjustment that gives James & Co. a chance to steal a road win and get back into the series.
INJURY UPDATE: PG George Hill is questionable with back spasms. “Right now he’s getting an MRI to see what’s going on in there,” Lue said Saturday. If Hill can’t play, it’s not clear who would replace him. Could be Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson or Jose Calderon, who did not play in Game 3.
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