The Cleveland Cavaliers and host Indiana Pacers will look to avenge disappointing losses when they meet to close out the calendar year on Thursday.
Indiana, in search of a 4-0 start, led the Boston Celtics by as many as 17 points on Tuesday. But a disastrous run in the fourth quarter doomed the Pacers to a 116-111 defeat.
"Down the stretch, we didn't necessarily make plays or get stops when we needed to. We also put them on the (free-throw) line too much," Indiana's Victor Oladipo said.
In Tuesday's loss, the Pacers sent Boston to the foul line for 37 attempts, as opposed to just 16 for Indiana. Just two nights earlier in a 108-107 defeat of the Celtics, Boston shot 24 free throws.
That still outpaced Indiana, which attempted just 15. The Pacers come into Thursday's contest ranked 24th in the NBA with 19.8 opponent free-throw attempts per game, but have thrived elsewhere defensively.
They are ninth in the league with 17.0 turnovers generated per game, and fourth in opponent two-point field-goal percentage at 48.0. The sample size may be small, but continue trends from a season ago when Indiana ranked No. 13 in turnovers created and No. 9 in two-point field-goal percentage allowed.
Another promising trend from last season that carried over into the early going of 2020-21 for the Pacers has been the play of forward Domantas Sabonis. An All-Star in 2019-20, Sabonis has increased both his point-per game and assist production. He also made the game-winning shot in Indiana's win over Boston on Sunday.
Sabonis leads the Pacers against a Cleveland frontcourt down veteran Kevin Love. The forward aggravated a calf injury in the Cavs' 118-94 rout of Philadelphia on Sunday and will be re-evaluated in three to four weeks.
Love missed the Cavaliers' 95-86 loss to New York on Tuesday, their first defeat of the 2020-21 season. Cleveland failed to score in triple digits for the first time on the campaign, shooting a dismal 36.4 percent from the floor.
Still, the Cavaliers took some reason for optimism out of the loss.
"If it was last year, or the year before, and we (were) missing this many shots, we probably would have lost by 20, 25, 30," Collin Sexton said.
In finishing with an Eastern Conference-worst 19-46 a season ago, Cleveland lost by an average of 7.9 points per game. The 2019-20 Cavaliers did not reach three wins, this year's start, until eight games in, and did not win three consecutive until games Nos. 28-30.
The 2020-21 campaign is off to a much stronger start, thanks in part to the emergence of the Sexton-Darius Garland backcourt. Sexton is averaging 25.3 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting from the floor, while Garland has posted 18.5 points and 7.8 assists per game.
Post presence Andre Drummond, acquired around the trade deadline from Detroit last season, has averaged 19.8 points and 15.3 rebounds per game.
"The hard work we put in during the offseason and just the camaraderie that we have as a unit is looking really good," Drummond said.
--Field Level Media