(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/David Richard)
The Cleveland Cavaliers got away with one - again - and they had LeBron James to thank - again. The Cavs superstar had 44 huge points, including the clutch buzzer-beating 3-pointer, to give Cleveland a 98-95 win in Game 5. James was absolutely unstoppable in the paint, especially early on, and once again carried the team to victory. With Kevin Love and JR Smith (a combined 2-of-17) struggling mightily, Kyle Korver was the only other Cav other than LeBron who had his shot going as he finished with 19 points on 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
As for the Pacers, they somehow managed to remain tied with three seconds remaining despite star Victor Oladipo going a horrendous 2-of-15 from the field. Domantas Sabonis came up with 22 huge points off the bench, while Thaddeus Young added 16 points and six boards. With Darren Collison also struggling, Cory Joseph stepped up with 27 minutes off the bench and was a team-high plus-4.
Three keys to the game
LeBron James - As if the first four games didn’t make it painfully clear, the Cavs have no shot at winning this series without LeBron. King James was at his absolute magisterial best in Game 5 with the Pacers simply unable to handle him in the paint. The Cavs simply need another superhuman performance from the Chosen One in order to finally close out the Pacers on the road.
Pacers backcourt - The Indiana starting backcourt of Oladipo and Collison was horrendous. Dipo’s shooting slump extended for the third-straight game, while Collison was wildly ineffective on either end of the court. The Pacers were somehow still a whisker away from getting a win despite their backcourt’s struggles, but they’ll need both to bounce back if they want to extend the series one more game.
Cavs shooting - James has been doing just about everything for the Cavs. Not only is he scoring at will, but he’s also setting his teammates up with some great looks. The Cavs’ shooters were unable to knock those shots down in Game 5, though. Smith and Love were the main offenders. Neither player needs to play amazingly well for the Cavs to win. But the team will need at least some production from two of their most trusted veterans to give LeBron some much-needed help.
Matchup to watch
Myles Turner vs Kevin Love - Turner has carried over his wildly inconsistent regular-season form into the playoffs and has gone back to alternating between good games and bad games. But with the Pacers staring at elimination, their big man must come up big and take advantage of his matchup against the clearly limited Kevin Love to give the Pacers a much-needed advantage.
Pacers projected starting lineup
PG - Darren Collison | SG - Victor Oladipo | SF - Bojan Bogdanovic | PF - Thaddeus Young | C - Myles Turner
Cavaliers projected starting lineup
PG - Jose Calderon | SG - JR Smith| SF - Kyle Korver | PF - LeBron James | C - Kevin Love
With Oladipo struggling mightily with his shot for the last three games, Sabonis has been the Pacers’ most reliable fantasy threat in recent games. The second-year big man followed up his 19-point, six-rebound Game 4 with 22 points and five boards in Game 5. Young has also delivered with some impressive performances over the course of the series. Chances are Oladipo finally makes some significant improvements, but those two should nevertheless still be solid options.
As for the Cavs, it’s LeBron James all the way. He’s done everything humanly possible to put his team in this closeout situation. Kyle Korver has been the only other Cav who has been much of a factor fantasy-wise, and given Love’s problems, that doesn’t figure to change in Game 6.
The Pacers have shown impressive fight throughout this series. Even in their three losses, all three have been by four points or fewer. They are unlikely to just lay down at home. And with the Cavs simply unable to get much going offensively, Cleveland aren’t likely to run away with it, either. Expect this game to be another tight affair, with the Pacers just about getting the edge.
The Pacers prevail to force a decisive Game 7 as they take Game 6, 97-93.
This game will be broadcast on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8:00 pm Eastern.