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Cavaliers admit they weren't ready for Game 1

By JOE VARDON • Apr 16, 2018 at 10:45 PM

CLEVELAND — The oldest NBA playoff cliche snaked its way into the Cavaliers' locker room Sunday.

Hasn't been around these parts much, because, well, losing Game 1 of a first-round series is not something they do. But after the Cavs fell 98-80 to the Pacers in the opener of this Eastern Conference first round series, their synopsis was unanimous.

They weren't ready. And the Pacers were more "aggressive."

"They were more physical. They were more aggressive. Usually in playoffs, those teams win," coach Tyronn Lue said."

"They were more aggressive. They just played inspired basketball," LeBron James said.

"They were more physical," Rodney Hood said.

"They were just more aggressive than us," Larry Nance Jr. said.

Get the picture yet? This is what teams say when they lose the first game of a playoff series, or when they get blown out in a postseason game.

In the Cavs' case, it was both. This is the first time James lost Game 1 of a first-round series and his first loss in a first-round series since May 6, 2012 (snapping a string of 21 wins).

"I've always stayed even keeled with the postseason," James said. "It's just, I mean, I'm down 0-1 in the first round. 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."

Game 1 a learning experience

This was also the first playoff game for Nance and Jordan Clarkson and the first playoff start for Rodney Hood. Nance was strong — 10 points, five rebounds, 5-of-7 shooting. The others made a minimal impact.

"You always hear people say in the regular season sometimes it's a 'playoff-type atmosphere,'" James said. "Eh, you can't simulate that. You can't simulate that speed. You can't simulate what's going on out there. So, today was definitely a good test for some of our younger guys and like I said, I think they'll be a lot better especially in Game 2.

"And not just them," James continued. "Even the older guys as well. Some of the guys even with experience, including myself, I can be a lot better as well. So, we take it as everybody has to dig deep and not lose two of them on our home floor."

Jeff Green's a vet with playoff experience. He shot 0-of-7. Kevin Love, a champion, was 3-of-8. Kyle Korver was 0-of-3. Jose Calderon, 0-of-3.

"We just can't shoot as tight," said Hood, who was 4-of-8. "We just gotta shoot the ball and if you make it, you make it, and if you miss, you miss. But I think tonight we was tight with all our shots. We gotta hit some free throws as well. So I think, next game we'll be more relaxed."

Clarkson (2-of-6) said he wasn't nervous, "just thinking instead of playing. At the end of the day you've just got to go out there and do what you do."

Hill, Love hurt

Cavaliers point guard George Hill hurt his back when he was crushed from behind on a screen by Trevor Booker in the second quarter. The play occurred with 8:59 left, and Booker was called for an offensive foul. Hill left the game and returned twice, first with 4:19 left in the quarter and again to start the third quarter.

But Lue yanked him with 8:39 left in the third and he didn't come back. Hill finished with seven points on 3-of-7 shooting and two turnovers.

"At halftime he was pretty stiff so he was going to try to give it a go to start the third quarter, but he was favoring it so we had to get him out," said Lue, who also said he expects Hill to play in Game 2 Wednesday.

Love had his right leg heavily wrapped after the game. He said Victor Oladipo's knee crashed into his shin in the first quarter.

Love corralled 17 rebounds but only scored nine points.

"I thought their pressure really bothered us early — picking up fullcourt with their guards and post ups with Kevin that they tried to be physical and take him out of them," Lue said. "Just have to be more physical for Game 2 and own our space offensively."

Not much talk of adjustments

Outside of looking to post up James more, there wasn't much talk of adjustments heading into Game 2.

The Cavs were happy with their defense — yes, they know Victor Oladipo scored 32 points.

"I think we need to change our mindset," more than anything on the court, Lue said.

"I don't think there's too many adjustments we can make, we just have to play harder to start the game off," said JR Smith. "They just played more physical than we did and it showed, it definitely showed. If we could bottle that third quarter up and part of that fourth, the way we played with intensity, diving on the floor, guarding people, contesting every shot, making the extra pass, we'll be good."

The Pacers show no fear

Counting the regular season, the Pacers have beaten the Cavs four out of five games. They show absolutely no fear of James and the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs.

"We talk about being calm, clear, connected every single night," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "In the situation like this where going into the postseason basketball, you're going up against Cleveland, LeBron and all the things that he has done, it's going to be emotional. You're on their home court and you're going to have to show that confidence and you're going to have to be clear about what you need to do and be connected out there. They've done that."

Or, as Oladipo said: "We've been playing like this all year. Been playing hard on both ends all year. It just hasn't been magnified. So it's the playoffs now, we've been doing this all year. Now everybody sees, so it's like, it's kind of shocking to everybody, I guess you could say."

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