Another riveting comeback came up short for the Pacers, as their season concluded with a 106-102 loss to Cleveland Sunday.
An Indiana Pacers season of ups, downs, and everything in-between has met its merciful end. The Pacers hung tough with the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday in game 4, even taking a late 2-point lead before the final buzzer sounded, and Indiana walked off the court victims of a 4-0 sweep. The Pacers will head into an offseason of intrigue or dread, depending on who you ask, while the Cavs await the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.
There were several aspects of the game that went wrong for the Pacers, most notably the play of Paul George. The Pacers superstar recorded just 15 points on a woeful 5-21 from the floor and turned the ball over a team-high 4 times. He was again tasked with guarding LeBron James for the majority of the game, and James was able to fully set himself apart from George, dominating all over the floor with 33 points and 10 rebounds. George also was presented an opportunity to tie the game on the Pacers' final possession but airballed a wide-open shot after a frantic sequence. Aside from the stellar performance from Lance Stephenson (22 points on 9-15 shooting, 6 rebounds), the Pacers bench was virtually nonexistent. Monta Ellis played amazingly played 6 minutes and recorded the second worse +/- on the floor for Indiana at -8.
Cleveland led for most of the second half, stymieing many of the Pacers' attempts to bring the deficit closer than the typical arm's length of 8-10 points. Whenever the Pacers were able to aggregate a series of defensive stops, Cleveland would answer right back on the other end and force either a miss or turnover. On the other hand, when a Pacers player would string consecutive baskets in a row, the Cavs were able to respond with subsequent buckets of their own. While Jeff Teague made tough shot after tough shot, the Cavs' Kyrie Irving matched him every step of the way.
It's difficult to uncover any silver linings during a playoff sweep, but blind Indiana fan hood finds a way. It would have been easy for the Pacers to simply roll over and accept their series loss after blowing a 26-point lead on Thursday, but Indiana came out swinging early and did not fold fading a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Myles Turner, after averaging just 7.7 points through the first 3 games, chipped in a solid 20 points and 9 rebounds for Indiana and led the team with a +8 rating. Teague recorded two clean blocks on Irving jump shot attempts and had a double-double.
Indiana now heads into an offseason full of uncertainty regarding the front office, coaching staff, and most importantly, the future of Paul George. George is still under contract for the upcoming year and has a player option for the 2018-19 season. Depending on the outcome of this year's All-NBA voting, George could be eligible for the Designated Veteran Player Extension from the Pacers, giving them an advantage over every other possible suitor. If he is not voted onto an All-NBA team, George will more than likely decline his 2018 player option and test free agency. Despite the ongoing narrative that George is heading to the Lakers, I can't imagine he has played his final game in Indianapolis. George's trade value was at its highest at the 2017 trade deadline, so if he wasn't moved then, I imagine that he'll return for the start of next season. If he is moved, it will be during the 2017-18 year.