NBA

Swarming defence of Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers is a problem for Cleveland Cavaliers

Jay Asser 16:56 16/04/2018
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Victor Oladipo pressures Cleveland's Kyle Korver.

LeBron James’ path back to the NBA Finals was always going to be tougher this postseason than in years past, but few expected the test to come right away against the Indiana Pacers.

Indiana delivered the biggest Game 1 shock of the first round when they not only beat James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but smoked them in a 98-80 win on the road.

It’s not exactly a revelation that Cleveland’s stay in the playoffs will be short-lived if LeBron isn’t the best player on the floor, but there’s more to this match-up than the individual play of James and Victor Oladipo, who shined in the series opener.

Coming into the match-up, the Cavaliers’ defined weakness was their defence – and that certainly showed itself on Sunday – but it was on the other end of the court where the Pacers controlled the game.

While Cleveland didn’t help themselves by missing 26 of their 34 attempts from beyond the arc, Indiana’s swarming defence proved to be a handful.

The Pacers’ collective ball pressure, combined with the pick-pocketing ability of Oladipo, bothered the Cavaliers and kept them from getting anything easy.

Cleveland is a one-way team, so engaging in a grind-it-out style of game is a recipe for disaster because of their paper-thin defence that struggles to stop anyone.

LeBron’s ability to impose his will is the great equaliser, but at some point he won’t be able to do it alone.

Playoff P

Giving yourself a nickname is corny in its own right. Giving yourself the nickname ‘Playoff P’ is as corny as you can get.

But when you play like Paul George did in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 116-108 win over the Utah Jazz, you can call yourself whatever you want.

George splashed 8-of-11 triples for a game-high 36 points to look like the player that many thought would make the Thunder a title contender when he was traded from Indiana last summer.

He may not shoot the lights out like that again this postseason, but when George is aggressive and a threat to score, the Thunder look a lot scarier.

Especially against Utah, who have limited offensive options outside of rookie Donovan Mitchell, George can make this series much shorter than expected if he operates as a primary option.

He was passive at times in the regular season and had a rocky finish to the campaign, but if Playoff P is here to stay, Oklahoma City’s ceiling is within reach.

Horford’s all-around brilliance

It takes a village to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo, but that task is made easier when you have someone like Al Horford.

The Celtics’ lone remaining healthy All-Star was at his absolute best in Boston’s thrilling 113-107 victory against Milwaukee, providing tremendous defence against Giannis on one end while being the centre of the offence on the other.

‘The Greek Freak’ will inevitably get his, as his 35 points in a decent, but not great, showing proved. But Horford made him work for a lot of his points and on several instances shut down his drives, using his length and strength to protect the rim.

Horford also made sure Giannis didn’t get to rest on defence as he posted him up at intervals, which either forced double teams or led to Antetokounmpo picking up fouls. Those fouls came into play in overtime when Giannis picked up his sixth to foul out of the game.

He’ll never be a volume scorer or an uber-aggressive player, but the perpetually underrated Horford is capable of being the main reason why Boston win this series.

Break in case of emergency

What a luxury it is to have two of the best isolation players in the league to bail you out.

Between James Harden and Chris Paul, the Houston Rockets have the ultimate back-up plans when their typical offensive attack isn’t clicking as usual – and they’re plans that have been used often.

That was the case in the 104-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, when Harden went off for 44 points by hitting some ridiculous step-back 3s in a contest that saw his teammates make just 3-of-25 from long range.

Minnesota may have missed their best chance to steal one as it’s not likely Houston shoot that poorly again. And if they do, there’s always the other way.

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