Cavs showed why they’re not winning the East in a humbling Game 1 loss to Pacers

Victor Oladipo Cavs

Victor Oladipo scored 32 points in the Pacers’ 98-80 beatdown of Cleveland in Game 1. (Getty Images)

Quit acting surprised.

What we saw in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen all season–the rudderless Cavs blown out on their home floor in a game they were supposed to win, cutting to slack-jawed analysts in the postgame show shaking their heads.

Yes, Cleveland has LeBron James.

But no, that doesn’t mean that the Cavs are actually any good.

After Victor Oladipo strolled up and did what he’s been doing all season–killing teams softly with mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper, accumulating 32 points and finally earning some national recognition about the bona-fide star he’s become, one thing was clear.

The Indiana Pacers can win this series. And it won’t be much of an upset if they do.

Indiana beat Cleveland three out of four times in the regular season. They entered the playoffs winners of seven of their last ten games, including a late-season sweep of Golden State, which included a 92-81 win in Oakland and a 126-106 beatdown at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.

This isn’t really even about the Pacers, though. Sure, Indiana is young, hungry, athletic, quick, tenacious on ‘D’ and feisty as hell, especially with LeBron’s buddy Lance Stephenson shadowing him again and already annoying the crap out of him.

But this is more about the Cavs, who continue to stagger along listlessly through what has been likely the most challenging season of LeBron’s career.

Cleveland came out flat–again–in the biggest game of the season, falling behind Indiana 25-8 and losing the first quarter 33-14.

They made a mini-run in the third to cut the Pacers’ lead to seven, but that was as close as they got in a thoroughly humbling 98-80 loss.

LeBron James Game 1 Pacers

There really wasn’t anything stunning about the Cavs’ apathetic Game 1 performance. (AP Photo)

This wasn’t a stunner. The Cavs have been playing these types of games all season.

Listen to most people who say they pay attention to the NBA, and you would have heard the same platitudes coming into the playoffs: the Cavs are coming out of the East. When LeBron wants to turn it on, he will. He’s enough to get to the Finals all by himself.

(We’re looking at you, Russillo and Ceruti).

LeBron himself has been fueling that narrative, but if you listened to him closely, you’d hear the doubt in his voice about what this group can really accomplish.

The honest truth is that they’re just not that good.

Before Kyrie Irving’s injury, we would’ve gone double-or-nothing on our student loans that the Celtics were coming out of the East.

Mention that to most fans and they would have said, “But Gordon Hayward…” Those people weren’t paying attention.

The C’s had been Finals-good all season long. They proved it by winning 55 games–even without Kyrie for 22 of them. They proved it when they won 16 straight after starting the year 0-2–which was the longest winning streak of any team this season until Houston ran off 17 in a row in February-March.

They proved it in statement games, like when they beat the Rockets and Warriors at home, and trounced the Cavs in January.

It’s downright criminal that we won’t get to see the C’s with Kyrie in these playoffs, and it blurs the point that we’ve been making all season long.

Everybody just default-gave the Cavs another Eastern Conference title, but this team is a mere shadow of itself without Kyrie Irving. They’re not the same, and it’s not even close.

That’s maybe the most under-reported story of this NBA season.

Go ahead and believe that Cleveland will bounce back, that they’ll actually follow through on all of the talk and find a way to win this series, and another, and another.

We’re not holding our breath.

The East is as wide-open as it’s been in forever, and the Sixers, Raptors, Celtics, maybe even the Pacers–just might have a chance to cash in.

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