CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Way back on July 26 -- before Kyrie Irving got traded to the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers played a single game during a turbulent regular season -- owner Dan Gilbert, not even aware of it at the time, was adding fuel to the fire of a future playoff foe.
On that day, Gilbert and new general manager Koby Altman hosted a joint press conference where they spoke on a variety of topics, including a failed trade with the Indiana Pacers for All-Star Paul George. Altman answered, giving the typical answer from a GM after not completing a deal. Then Gilbert chimed in. Unprompted.
"I will say that Indiana could've done better than it did," Gilbert said with a mischievous smile.
That was a direct shot at Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis -- the two players Indiana received for George in a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was also a dig at the Pacers front office, which backed out of a trade with Cleveland that Gilbert -- and others -- reportedly were celebrating, believing it was done.
Gilbert's throw-away one liner came back to bite him and the Cavaliers Sunday afternoon during Game 1 of their first-round matchup against the Pacers, as Oladipo sent his own message.
"I'm aware of it," Oladipo said when asked about Gilbert's comments following Indiana's 98-80 win. "I already have fuel. You could say it added fuel to the fire. But that was so long ago. It came up recently, obviously, because we were playing the Cavs in the series, but I'm aware of what he said. Can't control his opinion. All I'm focused on is myself and becoming the best Victor Oladipo possible."
In a new, expanded role, back in the city where he became a college basketball star, Oladipo has blossomed into an All-Star and unquestioned leader.
On Sunday, he looked the part.
With George last season, the Pacers got swept out of the first round by the Cavs and squandered a 26-point lead in Game 3. With Oladipo leading the way, the Pacers handed LeBron James his first ever loss in a Game 1 during his sparkling career, ending a streak of 21 straight wins in the first round.
Oladipo, the top name on the Cavaliers' scouting report and the one they schemed to eliminate, shredded Cleveland's defense throughout.
He also suffocated the Cavs' nervy backcourt, coming up with four steals and bringing a physicality they couldn't match.
"We've been playing like this all year. Been playing hard on both ends all year," Oladipo said. "It just hasn't been magnified. So it's the playoffs now, we've been doing this all year. Now everybody sees, so it's like, it's kind of shocking to everybody, I guess you could say. But we've been playing hard, we've been playing our butss off on both ends of the floor all year. We're fully aware of LeBron, we're fully aware of his team and we realize it's not going to be easy, but that doesn't mean we're just going to come in here and just fold. We planning on winning. That's why we came to this series. That's why we came to play this game is to win, not just to come here and just be OK. That's what we're focused on, taking it one game at a time, trying to win every game."
He scored a game-high 32 points on 11-of-19 from the field and 6-of-9 from 3-point range. He also added six rebounds, four assists and helped rebuff the Cavaliers' comeback effort each time they inched closer.