James, Cavaliers can’t keep pace
Victor Oladipo keeps delivering knockout blows.
And nobody in the NBA seems to be immune from his closing flurries.
Two nights after beating the league’s worst team with a late 3-pointer, Indiana’s new shooting guard did it again with another late 3 and the Pacers beat Cleveland 106-102 on Friday to end the Cavaliers’ 13-game winning streak.
Oladipo finished with 33 points, eight rebounds and six 3s and played so well that Cavs coach Tyronn Lue called him an All-Star.
“Coming from someone like him who’s been around great players, played with great players and, obviously, coaching the best player we have in our league it’s an honor for him to say that,” Oladipo said. “I’m not satisfied by any means and neither is this team. I’ve got to keep getting better, and this team has got to keep getting better.”
The Pacers have played better than most expected following last summer’s Paul George trade. And the biggest reason has been Oladipo’s clutch shooting.
In late October, his shot with 10.1 seconds left beat San Antonio. On Wednesday, his 3 with 31.1 seconds to go beat Chicago. This time, with 1:01 left, Oladipo’s 3 gave Indiana a 103-97 lead that sunk the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs.
Cleveland never got another chance to tie or take the lead.
Indiana has won three straight, nine of 12 and is the first team to beat the Cavs twice this season. Not bad for a rebuilding franchise that got swept by Cleveland in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
“You’ve got to take away the head of the snake, and that’s been Paul George and now it’s Oladipo,” LeBron James said. “They’ve given [him] the confidence, no matter make or miss. He missed three or four straight 3s — some of them didn’t hit the rim, some of them hit the backboard — but they’ve given him the confidence, keep taking ‘em. Then he makes the [one] to kind of put it away,”
While Oladipo gave Indiana the upper hand, James & Co. did everything they could to break franchise records for longest winning streak and most consecutive road wins.
Instead, they came up just short on a night James had 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Kevin Love added 20 points in Cleveland’s first loss since Nov. 9 at Houston. The Cavs had won seven straight on the road.
These teams went toe to toe most of the night, trading jabs, leads and momentum swings.
But Oladipo’s closing combination finally stopped Cleveland.
After using an 11-2 third-quarter spurt to finally retake the lead, the Cavs played catch up for the final 14 minutes.
They got as close as 96-95 on J.R. Smith’s 3-pointer with 2:49 to go.
Then Bojan Bogdanovic answered with a 3, Oladipo made one of two free throws and then hit the 3 that made it a six-point game.
Cleveland cut the deficit to 104-102 on Smith’s 3 with 10 seconds left, but Cory Joseph made two throw and Myles Turner grabbed the rebound off Love’s errant 3 to seal it.