Pacer puts stamp on both ends

Bogdanovic sets points mark and restricts James in a riposte to critics as Indiana lead 2-1

INDIANAPOLIS (Indiana) • The Indiana Pacers signed Bojan Bogdanovic during the off-season mainly for his offence, knowing exactly what they were getting and what they were compromising on.

Whether it was fair or not, the small forward has had a reputation of being a great shooter but a defensive liability, with ESPN rating his defence 466th out of 468 National Basketball Association (NBA) players in the 2016-17 season.

For the Croat, there is no better place than the play-offs, guarding one of the league's best players, to try to prove his critics wrong.

On Friday, he scored a play-off career-high 30 points as the Pacers stormed back from a 17-point half-time deficit to edge out the Cleveland Cavaliers 92-90 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference first-round clash.

The win gives the Pacers a 2-1 lead and they can take a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series with a victory today in Indianapolis.

Bogdanovic scored 19 points in the second half, finishing seven-of-nine from beyond the arc while Victor Oladipo added 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

Bogdanovic was also asked to carry a heavy load on defence. His double-duty performance included guarding Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, who finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and six turnovers.

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    LeBron James' shooting percentage when guarded by Bojan Bogdanovic.

James was only two-of-seven from the field when he was defended by Bogdanovic. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he is shooting only 24 per cent when Bogdanovic is matched up against him in the series.

"Everybody thought before this season that I cannot play defence," Bogdanovic said. "I don't say that I'm playing great defence, but I'm working hard to make it tough for every player I'm guarding."

James joined Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history with 100 double-doubles in the post-season. Jordan had 109.

"We were more aggressive in the first half. We had tempo, they didn't," James said. "Then they were more aggressive in the second half, they had tempo, and we didn't."

Cleveland led 69-63 after three quarters. But James tried unsuccessfully to rally his team twice in the final minutes as the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions were outscored 52-33 over the final two quarters.

The Pacers were hampered by seven of their 10 first-half turnovers in the first quarter. The Cavaliers had six first-half turnovers as they led by 17 points going into the interval.

But it was telling that Cleveland finished with 16 turnovers by the end of the game.

"We have to regroup and figure out how we can be better in Game 4," James added of the Cavs, who were 39-0 in the regular season when leading after three quarters.

In Milwaukee, the Bucks beat the Boston Celtics 116-92 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference first-round play-offs. Despite the victory, they still trail the series 2-1.

The Washington Wizards, meanwhile, clinched a 122-103 home victory over Toronto, who now lead 2-1. The Raptors, like the Cavaliers, were made to pay for their turnovers. They recorded 18 in total.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 22, 2018, with the headline 'Pacer puts stamp on both ends'. Print Edition | Subscribe