INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers beat the Cleveland Cavaliers three of the four times they played in the regular season. Indiana has two blowout wins and three losses by fewer than four points in their first-round playoff series against Cleveland.
The three best big men in the first six games play for the Pacers. Domantas Sabonis, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner are all outplaying Kevin Love, who is shooting a meager 32 percent as he deals with a thumb injury and general malaise.
Cleveland's starting point guards in the series -- George Hill and Jose Calderon -- have compiled eight assists and eight turnovers. They've scored 26 total points. JR Smith, the starting shooting guard the past five games, is shooting 29 percent for the series.
Realistically speaking, LeBron James and the Cavs are fortunate they get a chance in a Game 7 after the Pacers beat them 121-87 in Friday's Game 6. They're only still around because of James' greatness, a point that was hammered home when a pedestrian game from him left the Cavs totally outclassed.
What's become clear is this is a series between a fading favorite and an upstart challenger. The Pacers entered their elimination game believing they had the better team, and they played that way.
"We came out with a sense of urgency," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "That challenge was presented to them tonight. How bad do we want it? This was going to show our character."
Indiana performed that way, not only battering the Cavs but also bruising them. James was leveled by a shoulder from Young, opening a cut above his eye. Love was knocked from the game after a collision with Turner in the third quarter.
Early in the first quarter, the Pacers ran a set play for Oladipo, running him through two screens to free him for a 3-pointer on the wing. He rose and released with perfect form, and the ball banged through. He jogged up the floor looking pounds lighter than the guy who was 7-of-35 over the previous two games.
He floated and muscled his way to 15 first-quarter points, punctuating it with a reverse transition dunk that flushed whatever remained from the slump. It was just the opening act of a command performance, the exact sort of lift a star is supposed to deliver in an elimination game.
"I just got out of my own way and made shots," Oladipo said. "I was shooting the shots I've been shooting all year, just shot them with confidence."
Oladipo finished the Cavs in the third quarter, scoring 10 more points with a power dunk and a couple of more 3-pointers. When it was over, Oladipo had 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, and the Pacers had a lot of mojo personified by Lance Stephenson dancing after he made his own 3-pointer in the midst of a huge run.
Oladipo dragged his backcourt mate, the also slumping Darren Collison with him. Collison contributed 15 points as the Pacers embarrassed the Cavs' entire backcourt. In all, seven Pacers scored in double figures.
James had a decent game by his standards, with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists, and sat the fourth quarter. But in a series in which he came in averaging nearly 35 points and 11 rebounds, anything less than a masterpiece pretty much leaves the Cavs in trouble.
In addition to getting knocked in the head and a hard fall on his arm, Love had another subpar game with seven points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field, seven rebounds and little else. With the Cavs needing offense outside of James, Love has simply been unable to contribute much.
"I mean, [Love] is a huge part of our success or our nonsuccess," James said. "Obviously, we try to go to him, we want to go to him. Obviously we can't make the shots for him. He has to step up and knock those down."
The Cavs made six of their first nine 3-pointers and then missed their next 11. They finished 12-of-38 (31.6 percent). This has been a trademark of the team since its midseason trades; they tend to go cold from the perimeter, and when they do, it's typically curtains in a big way. In that span of misses, the Pacers' confidence grew as they were able to get stops and create transition offense.
Oh, and the Pacers had transition offense. They racked up 30 -- 30! -- fast-break points in only the first three quarters and outscored Cleveland 35-12 overall on the break. In an Eastern Conference playoff game, that sort of number is preposterous. The Cavs can't dream of keeping up with that, ahem, pace the way they're playing in this series.
What it leaves is a Game 7 on Sunday in Cleveland. James has won his last four Game 7s. In fact, he hasn't lost one since 2008. But this is his first in a first-round series, the first time he may be representing the inferior team in such a game.
It's an awkward position, and when considering James' coming free agency, it's added pressure Cleveland was not expecting before the end of April.
"Game 7, I always said, is the two greatest words in sports," James said. "Just throw the ball up and let's go out and play. I mean, it's the postseason."