Cavaliers erase 26-point deficit, stun Pacers
INDIANAPOLIS -- Trailing by 26 points. On the road. In the NBA playoffs.
For most NBA players, even those who play at an elite level, it probably would be best to simply move on to the next game.
But not for LeBron James, who added another chapter to his legend Thursday night, contributing 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, helping the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers rally from a 26-point deficit to stun the Indiana Pacers 119-114 in Game 3 of their opening-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
The Cavaliers opened a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
”They came out and jumped on us in the first half, but when we came into the locker room at halftime, I told the guys, ‘Let’s just get a couple of stops and see what happens,'“ James said. ”Then we took the ball right at them and got back in the game.
“For me, it’s always just about trying to get better and being the best that I can be. That’s what I was trying to do tonight. Then, we got some great play from our guys off the bench.”
The 26-point comeback ties for the third largest in NBA playoff history and is the largest since April 30, 2012, when the Los Angeles Clippers came back from a 27-point deficit to beat the Memphis Grizzlies.
James, who has won 20 consecutive first-round playoff games, scored 28 second-half points and completely dominated the fourth quarter. Channing Frye’s clutch 3-pointer with 54.8 seconds to play gave the Cavaliers a 114-107 lead.
The Cavaliers can complete a four-game series sweep Sunday when the teams play again in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. This is only the second time in Pacers franchise history that Indiana has trailed a playoff series 3-0.
Cleveland outscored Indiana 70-40 in the second half. Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving and Frye each finished with 13 points, and Kyle Korver added 12.
“Tonight was very special,” said Love, who combined with Irving to make only 8 of 29 field goal attempts after he James and Irving combined to score 89 points in Cleveland’s Game 2 victory.
Paul George scored 36 points, including 21 during a dominating second quarter, but Indiana could not stop James and Cleveland in the final 24 minutes.
”We came out in the second half with a 25-point lead and had a chance to put our foot on their throat,“ said George, who also had 15 rebounds and nine assists. ”Instead, we came out relaxed and just allowed them to step into wide-open 3-pointers.
“That’s one of the best players and teams in the world. We played a great first half, but then they really got aggressive in the second half. We have to do a better job communicating out on the floor.”
Jeff Teague added 15 and Lance Stephenson scored 13 for the Pacers.
The 74 first-half points were the Pacers’ most this season, topping the 68 they scored during the first two quarters April 8 at Orlando. Indiana shot 56.8 percent during the opening half, including 10 of 17 from 3-point range.
In addition to George’s 23 first-half points, Pacers’ non-starters outscored the Cavaliers’ reserves 28-8 before the break.
The Pacers led by 10 after one quarter, then increased their lead to 50-36 with 5:54 remaining in the second quarter. A little more than a minute later, it was 59-40. Indiana finished the first half with a 74-49 lead.
James had 13 first-half points, and Irving added 10, but Cleveland was outrebounded 26-17 and shot only 36.7 percent in the first two quarters.
The Cavaliers got to within 77-62 early in the third quarter, but the Pacers quickly pushed their lead back to 20. However, Cleveland outscored Indiana 35-17 in the period and was within 91-84 with 12 minutes to go. The Pacers made only 5 of 26 third-quarter field-goal attempts, and George failed to score.
“We missed layups, they got the momentum and we got hesitant,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said of the Pacers’ collapse. “We didn’t establish a killer instinct, and we didn’t keep the ball in front of us and deny their 3-point shots.”
The Cavaliers finished 21 of 44 from 3-point range, including 12 of 21 in their 70-point second half. Indiana made only 13 of 51 second-half shots, including 6 of 24 from beyond the arc.
Cleveland closed the gap to 96-91 with 9:24 remaining. A James basket cut the deficit to 98-96 with 7:16 to go. From then on, it was all Cavaliers, even though Irving and Love spent the fourth quarter on the bench.
Despite George making only 1 of 5 field-goal attempts, Indiana led 37-27 after the first 12 minutes, getting nine points from Kevin Seraphin and seven from Thaddeus Young. The Pacers shot 66.7 percent in the first quarter, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range. George scored only two first-quarter points but had four assists.
NOTES: Cleveland G J.R. Smith was listed as questionable due to a left hamstring injury, but he was in the starting lineup. ... Indiana made a Game 3 starting lineup change, inserting G C.J. Miles in place of G Monta Ellis. Miles scored nine points. ... Cleveland is 9-2 in its past 11 games in Indiana, including 3-1 regular-season records in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017. ... This is only the second time the Cavaliers and Pacers have met in the playoffs. Indiana won a 1998 series 3-1. ... The Pacers got 19 first-quarter points from non-starters on 7 of 8 field-goal shooting.