Victor Oladipo scored 32 points and the Indiana Pacers held off Cleveland’s second-half rally for a stunning 98-80 victory in their opening game of the NBA Eastern Conference series, handing LeBron James and the Cavaliers’ their first loss in the opening round in eight years.
Indiana was in control from the outset, opening a 21-point lead in the first quarter and leading by 23 in the third. The Cavs stormed back and got within seven, but Oladipo hit a big 3-pointer and Bojan Bogdanovic helped put Cleveland away with a 3 to make it 88-71.
The Pacers completely outplayed the three-time defending conference champions, whose turbulent regular season has carried over into the playoffs.
Game two is Thursday (NZT).
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James scored 24 with 12 assists and 10 rebounds for his 20th career triple-double. But James got little help as Cleveland’s four other starters – Kevin Love, Jeff Green, Rodney Hood and George Hill – combined for 25 points.
This is all new to James, who had won 21 consecutive first-round games and lost a postseason for the first time in his 13th playoffs. The 33-year-old is trying to get to his eighth straight Finals, and already the path is tougher than imagined.
Cleveland had won 14 straight first-round games, last losing on April 22, 2010, the last season of James’ first stint with the Cavs. Indiana was swept by Cleveland in last year’s opening round.
Meanwhile, Al Horford had 24 points and 12 rebounds and the Boston Celtics overcame Khris Middleton’s long three that beat the fourth-quarter buzzer, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 113-107 in overtime to open their NBA playoff matchup.
The Celtics led 99-96 with 0.5 seconds left in regulation in Boston when Middleton took an inbounds pass on the far right wing and hit a contested 35-footer to force OT.
Terry Rozier added 23 points, four rebounds and three assists for Boston in his first career playoff start. Jaylen Brown finished with 20 points. Rookie Jayson Tatum added 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 35 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists before fouling out in overtime. Middleton had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Malcolm Brogdon scored all 16 of his points after halftime for Milwaukee.
Game two in the best-of-seven series is Wednesday (NZT) in Boston.
An acrobatic, spinning layup by Tatum gave Boston a 108-105 lead in overtime.
It was 108-106 when Horford snared a rebound and got it ahead to Rozier, who was fouled. He made two free-throws to put the Celtics in front 110-106 with 18.8 remaining.
Antetokounmpo made one of two foul shots with 14.8 seconds left, but he fouled out of the game while going for the rebound on his miss.
Rozier added three free-throws to provide the final margin.
The game went to overtime following a wild finish in regulation that included back-to-back three-pointers in the closing seconds.
Milwaukee was held to just two field goals over the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter as the Celtics built an 86-76 advantage.
The Bucks closed to 89-87 before Marcus Morris made a falling-down jumper just inside the arc to make it 91-87.
It was 92-91 with less than a minute to play when a pair of free throws by Horford made it 94-91.
Antetokounmpo got free for a dunk, But Horford was steady again after being fouled, connecting on two more from the line with 15.2 seconds left.
Out of a timeout, Brogdon got free on the wing and drained a three with 10.3 to play to tie it at 96.
Rozier dribbled the clock down before crossing over Eric Bledsoe, stepping back and swishing an apparent game-winner with a half-second showing on the clock.
Kyrie Irving, out for the rest of the season following knee surgery, and Marcus Smart (rehabbing from right thumb surgery) sat at the end of the Boston bench.
Smart, who hasn’t played since March 11, was on the court getting up shots before the game. He was recently cleared for non-contact shooting but hasn’t resumed full basketball activities.