Following the Cavs' 98-80 defeat, James told reporters he has "always stayed even-keeled with the postseason" and alluded to Cleveland's comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals. NBA TV shared James' comments:
The four-time MVP also talked about Lance Stephenson, who continued to be a meddlesome presence for James. He praised Stephenson's work (12 points, five rebounds) off the bench:
While James and his Cavaliers teammates shouldn't hit the panic button after one game, Sunday's lopsided defeat didn't come out of nowhere.
Cleveland dropped three of its four games against Indiana in the regular season, and the Cavaliers finished with the second-worst defensive rating (109.5) in the league this year, per NBA.com. Unlike last year, the Cavs don't have Kyrie Irving's instant offense to help mask any defensive cracks, either.
Sunday's game highlighted issues that have plagued Cleveland all season. The team couldn't stop Victor Oladipo, and there wasn't a player who could shoulder the offensive burden besides James. Kevin Love had just eight shot attempts.
In the first three years after James re-signed with the team, the Cavaliers lost five combined games in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Assuming Cleveland rights the ship enough to advance past the Pacers, this postseason is likely to present the Cavs with their toughest road to the NBA Finals since James' return.