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New Cavaliers show they may belong in James' huddle after all

By JOE VARDON • Apr 23, 2018 at 10:24 PM

INDIANAPOLIS — LeBron James' streak of playoff series with at least one road win ended in the Finals last year at 30.

So, big whoop, he started a new one Sunday night with the Cavaliers’ 104-100 victory over Indiana in Game 4 of this first-round series.

But it actually was important, of course because the Cavs needed it to even the series at two.

Also, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance had never won a road playoff game. And Rodney Hood, Jeff Green, and Jose Calderon had never done it on this team, with James, and with championship expectations both weighing on their shoulders and slipping through their hands.

So from that perspective, the Cavs' ability to stave off the Pacers after another third-quarter collapse and regain homecourt advantage in this series was significant.

"After losing a game like that the other day, Friday, coming into the third quarter we took the lead by one, just looking around the huddle and not really being used to being in the trenches with these guys, you could tell they wanted it," said JR Smith, one of four remaining Cavs from the 2016 championship team.

"That's something that's extremely important for somebody who's been here to look out and see guys who just got here and see their demeanor," Smith said. "Everybody was pretty calm and poised and it really benefited us as a team."

Coach Tyronn Lue closed with James, Smith, Kevin Love, Jeff Green, and Kyle Korver. Larry Nance Jr. subbed in for Love for a defensive possession late.

He said he "just decided to go with the veteran guys who have been here, who have been through it." It's true that Green and Korver are vets who've been here all season, and in Korver's case, since Jan. of 2017.

But both had been spotty at best so far in the playoffs, and Korver struggled at times during the 2017 Finals run. Green had scored just eight points in three games, falling out of the starting lineup and nearly the rotation. Korver had a nice Game 2 (14 points), but was shut out of Game 1 and Game 3.

Green contributed eight points, four rebounds, and four assists on 3-of-5 shooting in Game 4. He drained a huge 3 with 9:03 left to put the Cavs up 87-85, and his first foul shot with nine seconds to go put the Cavs ahead four.

Korver, well, all he did was nail four 3s, including two inside of four minutes that gave the Cavs the lead for good.

"You don't want to put too much on a moment right now," Korver said. "There's still a lot of basketball to be played. But definitely after the start I had it was good to come out there and knock down some shots just for my own sake."

Clarkson had scored 10 points on 14 shots through three games. He scored 12 on 5-of-9 shooting Sunday, though all 12 came in the first half.

"For me it was like, I was looking at my numbers last game, coming in shooting three shots, four shots, that's not what I'm supposed to do," Clarkson said. "I'm supposed to come in and give a spark off the bench and get up shots. I'm a bench scorer, that's what I'm supposed to do, change the game in that way."

And then there's James, who scored all of 32 points to go with 13 rebounds and seven assists in 46 minutes. The knock on the Cavs this playoff series has been that no one's doing much besides James, and there's been questions as to whether or not it's gotten James down.

James said he didn't need to see the team's role players perform in a big game.

"I mean I knew what they were capable of doing and you just always hope that your teammates can play well, no matter what the circumstances are," he said.

James said the game meant a lot to the new guys.

"Because (it's) their first opportunity in the postseason and this kind of being a must win for us," James said. "It was a must win for us. Came into a hostile environment and for them to play the way they played it meant a lot to them."

LeBron says Clarkson was great

When Clarkson left the court with 2:26 remaining in the second quarter, James patted him on the head and grabbed the back of the jersey. It was clear James wanted Clarkson to know how pleased he was.

"I just thought that he was great," James said. "He was great in that moment. He's obviously been out of rhythm and he's trying to figure out ways to be productive for our team. We need Jordan's scoring. He has the ability to go off in the second quarter like he did. It was great to see it happen for him in that moment."

Third quarter woes continue

It happened again. Another sizable halftime lead, gone in the third quarter.

In the Cavs' 92-90 loss in Game 3, they lead by 17 at halftime and by just six after the third quarter. In Game 4, it was a 10-point advantage at half and the Cavs were ahead by just two heading into the fourth.

"It wasn't about us being warm or our bodies being back in the game, it was like we lost our mind a couple times," James said, pointing to some defensive breakdowns in the third. James only scored a point in the quarter.

Lue said the Pacers adjusted from the first half and spread the floor. Bojan Bogdanovic made two 3s and Myles Turner converted one, which forced the Cavs out of their blitz defense.

"I thought we came out with the right intent," Lue said.

Lue says Love not all bad

Love was out of the game before three minutes were out in the first quarter with two fouls and he never really recovered. He finished with 11 rebounds but shot just 2-of-10 for five points. He's shooting 17-of-47 in the series (.362).

"I thought he was in the right mindset, I just thought he couldn't get going offensively because of the foul trouble," Lue said. "But he did do other things. I thought defensively he got some deflections, got back on defense, he ran the floor, he rebounded the ball well and then he did a good job just when we went to our secondary coverage with (Victor) Oladipo just to try and keep him in front and contesting his pullup 2s."

Oladipo was 5-of-20 shooting. Smith is guarding him, but the Cavs are also blitzing him (Love plays a role in that).

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