Pacers return home in hopes of climbing back in series against Cavs

Lance Stephenson has been one of the Pacers' most effective and explosive players.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Turmoil and tumult defined the final two months of the season for the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

But now that the Cavs have taken a 2-0 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference series with the Indiana Pacers, things seem to be settling as they should for LeBron James and company as they hit the road Thursday to face the Pacers for Game 3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Cleveland has beaten the Pacers five straight times and is 12-0 when leading a postseason series 2-0.

Most important, as the Cavs have come together, the Pacers seem to be coming apart, and All-Star Paul George has been vocal about it.

After the Pacers dropped a 109-108 decision in Game 1, George was critical of how the game ended and how he needed to take the final shot.

After Monday’s Game 2 loss, George criticized teammates Dwight Stephenson and Myles Turner.

Stephenson has been the most effective and explosive Indiana player other than George. But in Game 2, Kevin Love abused Stephenson to the tune of 10 straight points in the third quarter.

“He’s got to learn to control himself and be in the moment,” George told ESPN. “Lance, in our locker room, is looked upon as a leader. His body language has to improve — just for the team. We all know that Lance is an emotional guy. … He’s got to channel that toward making effort plays on the court and doing whatever he needs for us to succeed.”

Turner, the second-year center, has been schooled by Cavs center Tristan Thompson.

“We just need him to challenge Tristan (Thompson), keep him off the boards,” George said. “He needs to make himself available down low in the post. He needs to know at this point he has to take it to the next level.”

One player who always takes it to the next level is James.

James had another stellar playoff performance in Game 2. In 42 minutes, he compiled 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists to go with four blocks and four steals.

“We have a chance to do something we all have been wanting to do all season, and that’s to put together a four-quarter game,” James said after Monday’s win. “And I think we’re right there on the cusp of doing that.”

For the Cavaliers to get where they want to be, they will have to play better defense, and it starts with stopping George, who also has taken his game to another level by averaging 30.5 points in the first two games.

One way to stop George is to tighten the interior defense, which is what Cleveland and Love did Monday.

Love has earned the praise of his teammates for not only scoring 27 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, but also for attempting to take three charges on Pacers driving the lane. Twice he was called for a fouls.

“I just want to help my teammates out, sacrifice my body, and I felt like I did that tonight,” Love said. “Whether it got called or not, I feel like it set a tone for the rest of the team that more than anything being a selfless act and giving your body up.”

Another player ready to give up his body is starting guard J.R. Smith.

After sitting out the second half of Monday’s game with a left hamstring issue, Smith participated in practice Wednesday. He was listed as questionable.

“I don’t want to ask,” Smith told the Cleveland Plain Dealer about talking to team doctors. “I figure I’ll find out game time when you all find out. I don’t like sitting out. Sat out enough.”