Oladipo outshines LeBron in Pacers-Cavaliers series opener

For the first time in 13 playoff appearances, the team featuring LeBron James lost its playoff opener. The Cleveland Cavaliers were no match for the Indiana Pacers on Sunday as Victor Oladipo scored a game-high 32 points in a commanding 98-80 win, raising doubts about Cleveland’s ability to once again represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

James entered Sunday 12-0 in first round Game 1s and had not lost a game in the opening round since 2012, but the Cavaliers never held a lead against the visiting Pacers, who jumped ahead with a 14-0 run in the first quarter and didn’t look back. The Cavaliers made a habit of second-half comebacks during the season and trimmed Indiana’s lead to eight points by the end of the third quarter, but they couldn’t get much closer before the Pacers pulled away again with an 8-2 run at the end.

Indiana defeated Cleveland in three of four meetings during the regular season and looked perfectly comfortable handling the Cavaliers in their own building, largely thanks to Oladipo’s timely shooting. Oladipo was 6-of-9 from 3-point range, dragging the team’s long-range shooting percentage up to 39.3. No other Pacers player hit more than one 3-pointer, but they generated scoring opportunities through crisp ball movement and found ways to penetrate a generally flat-footed Cleveland defense.

Lance Stephenson also did his part to pester James with his overwhelming and at-times unconventional defending style. Stephenson was at his worst near the end of the third quarter when fouled James before also hitting James in a head with an errant arm, earning a foul and a technical foul on the same play. But Stephenson also contributed 12 points and five rebounds off the bench and his performance was a reminder that he won’t leave James alone whenever they’re both on the floor this series.

Although it is too early to draw any conclusions about this year’s Cavaliers in the postseason, losing their playoff opener at home is concerning, and the way they lost is even more concerning. Indiana was the more efficient team in almost every respect, hitting more shots, carrying a slight edge in rebounds and assists, and grabbing 12 steals to Cleveland’s 7. James and the Cavaliers have until Wednesday to consider how they will respond in Game 2, because another Pacers victory would put Indiana in firm control of a series people thought would belong to Cleveland.