The Indiana Pacers have 455 games of playoff experience. That was more than a young Cleveland team could handle in the opening game of their first-round playoff series.
Cleveland was overpowered and buried by the Pacers, falling 106-77 Thursday night. The Cavaliers, who start three rookies and have a fourth rookie on their playoff roster, fell behind by double digits in the opening quarter and never drew closer than nine points again.The winning margin was the biggest ever for the Pacers in a playoff game, topping the 123-96 margin over Orlando in the 1995 Eastern Conference finals.
"Experience doesn't give us wins. But it helps prepare us for whatever situation we may be in," said Mark Jackson, who become Indiana's career playoff leader in assists with 10.
Chris Mullin, back in the playoffs for the first time since 1994, led the Pacers with 20 points, including four 3-pointers. Reggie Miller had 11 of his 19 points in the first quarter when Indiana took the lead for good.
"That's the reason I came here, to be part of something like this," said Mullin, who was 8-of-9 from the field. "The last few years I was watching on TV, and TNT was calling me, wanting me to come to the studio.
"I'm just glad to be playing. This time of year, you play with so much reaction. You have more energy, more adrenaline."
Cleveland trailed 31-18 after the opening quarter and 62-41 at halftime as Indiana improved to 26-0 this season when scoring at least 100 points.
"They beat us up in every aspect," said Cleveland coach Mike Fratello, who saw the Pacers shoot 69 percent (11-of-16) in each of the first two periods. "I don't know if we could have made it much easier."
The loss was the worst for the Cavaliers this season and the second-worst in their playoff history. The only worse playoff loss was by 31 (122-91) against Boston in the 1992 Eastern Conference semifinals.
`It was definitely a big game for us," Miller said. "They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We have everything to lose."
Game 2 in the series is scheduled here Saturday, with Game 3 in Cleveland on Monday.
"We seemed to play like we were just glad to be here," said Shawn Kemp, who led Cleveland with 25 points and 13 rebounds. "It was like we were just spectators."
Especially on the defensive end, where the Cavs consistently left Indiana shooters open. The Pacers shot 51 percent, hitting 8-of-17 shots from behind the 3-point line.
"Shooting with a hand in your face is one thing, shooting uncontested is something different," Fratello said. "I couldn't find sometimes who the guy was who was guarding certain people."
The Pacers were careful to not gloat over the ease in which they handled a team they split four games with during the regular season.
"We have the experience. But it can be overrated. Young teams can be hungry," Jalen Rose said.
"A veteran team can play well, but young, energetic players that Cleveland has can turn it around," Jackson said.
Wesley Person, who averaged 14.7 points in the season, failed to score in 19 minutes as he missed all four of his shots from the field. Cavs point guard Brevin Knight got into early foul trouble and managed only three points in 19 minutes before fouling out with 4:07 to play.
"They just took us out on both ends of the floor. We never got in a rhythm, and it frustrated us," Knight said. "We just need to come back and make a good series of it."
The Cavaliers never drew closer than 16 in the second half, and Indiana built its lead to as many as 31 in the fourth quarter despite having its reserves on the court.