The Cleveland Cavaliers and host Indiana Pacers will look to avenge disappointing losses when they meet to close out the calendar year on Thursday.
Indiana, seeking a 4-0 start, led the Boston Celtics by as much as 17 points Tuesday. But a disastrous streak in the fourth quarter doomed the Pacers to a 116-111 loss.
” Down the stretch, we didn’t necessarily make plays or stop when we needed to. We also put them too much on the (free throw) line,” Indiana’s Victor Oladipo said.
In Tuesday’s loss, the Pacers sent Boston to the free throw line for 37 attempts, down from just 16 for Indiana. Just two nights earlier, in the Celtics’ 108-107 loss, Boston threw 24 free throws.
That still beat Indiana, which tried just 15. The Pacers entered Thursday’s game ranked 24th in the NBA with 19.8 opponents free throw attempts per game, but they thrived elsewhere on defense.
They are ninth in the league with 17.0 turnovers per game, and fourth in the opponent’s two-point field goal percentage at 48.0. The sample size may be small, but trends continue from a season ago when Indiana ranked 13th in turnovers created and 9th in percentage of two-point field goals allowed.
Another promising trend from last season that carried over to early 2020-21 for the Pacers has been forward Mantas Saxons’ play. An All-Star in 2019-20, Saxons has increased both his point per game and his assist production. He also made the game-winning shot in Indiana’s win over Boston on Sunday.
Saxons leads the Pacers against a Cleveland front court against veteran Kevin Love. The forward aggravated a calf injury in the Cars’ 118-94 win over Philadelphia on Sunday and will be reevaluated in three to four weeks.
Love missed the Cavaliers’ 95-86 loss to New York on Tuesday, their first loss of the 2020-21 season. Cleveland failed to score in triple digits for the first time this season, shooting a dismal 36.4 percent from the floor.
Still, the Cavaliers drew some reason for optimism from the loss.
” If it had been last year, or the year before, and (we were) missing so many shots, we probably would have lost by 20, 25, 30,” Collin Sexton said.
Finishing the worst 19-46 in the Eastern Conference a season ago, Cleveland lost by an average of 7.9 points per game. The 2019-20 Cavaliers did not reach three wins, the start of this year, up to eight games, and did not win three in a row until Games 28-30.
The 2020-21 campaign is off to a much stronger start, thanks in part to the emergence of the Sexton-Darius Garland back court. Sexton is averaging 25.3 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting from the floor, while Garland has posted 18.5 points and 7.8 assists per game.
Andre Drummond, acquired near Detroit’s trade deadline last season, averaged 19.8 points and 15.3 rebounds per game.
” The hard work we did during the offseason and the camaraderie that we have as a unit looks really good,” said Drummond.
–Field level media
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.