Wrap-Up — LeBron James hadn’t lost a single First Round Playoff game in over four seasons. On Sunday afternoon, he made it five.
Running his personal streak to 21 straight wins in the postseason’s opening round, LeBron and the Cavaliers completed their four-game sweep of the Pacers – taking the 106-102 win on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a contest that wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty.
One game after completing an historic comeback – erasing Indiana’s 25-point halftime lead to win Game 3 on Thursday night – the Wine and Gold nearly had the tables turned on them on Sunday.
Working with a comfortable 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers looked poised to cruise to the finish line. But the stingy Pacers – a franchise that had never been swept in a seven-game series – rallied from there, going on a 17-4 run to tie the game at 100-apiece on Thaddeus Young’s short jumper with 2:39 to play.
Just over a minute later, Young tipped in a Paul George miss to give the Pacers their first lead, 102-100, since early in the second quarter.
But Indiana’s joy was fleeting.
On Cleveland’s next possession, LeBron James calmly pulled up from beyond the arc and splashed home a three-pointer to give the Cavaliers back the lead. The Cavs wouldn’t trail again, but that doesn’t mean the final moments were easy.
With the Wine and Gold up three, 105-102, with 11 seconds to play, J.R. Smith picked Jeff Teague’s pocket in front of the Cavs bench. But instead of being intentionally fouled, tried a behind-the-back pass to a streaking Kyrie Irving. Paul George tipped and stole the pass and was able to attempt a game-tying triple with 1.9 to play.
George’s three-point attempt rattled out and was rebounded by LeBron, who split the free throws to seal the deal and send the Pacers packing after a tough four-game set.
James led all scorers with 33 points – going 13-for-25 from the floor and 6-of-9 from the stripe, adding 10 boards, four assists, four steals and a pair of blocks.
”You don’t go into a series saying, ‘Let’s sweep,’” asserted James. “You go into the series saying ‘Let’s win Game 1’ and then in Game 2 you say ‘Let’s be better than Game 1’ and same with 3 and 4. And if it happens to go to 5, 6 or 7, you have to make adjustments throughout the course of a series. But every game has different challenges.”
For the series, the four-time MVP averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 boards and 9.0 assists – doubling-up in all four games of the First Round, including Thursday night’s triple-double in Cleveland’s epic Game 3 win.
LBJ and Kyrie combine to score 61 points as the Cavs close out the Pacers.
Kyrie Irving shook out of a mini-funk to notch 16 of his 28 points in the third quarter – going 5-of-9 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the stripe in the period; 10-of-25 and 7-of-7 overall, adding two boards and a team-best three blocks.
”Kyrie was great,” praised Coach Lue. “(The Pacers) were trying to switch a lot of things defensively. With Kyrie being one of the best one-on-one players in this league, he can take advantage of it. I think in that third quarter when we needed someone to step up and score the basketball, he really did that for us.”
Deron Williams, who played the entire fourth quarter of Thursday night’s win, was outstanding in relief again on Sunday – leading Cleveland’s reserves with 14 points, going 4-for-4 from the floor, including both triples he attempted.
“You have to have the right mentality of being aggressive and staying aggressive whether you play 13 minutes like today or 30 minutes,” said Williams after the win. “It was definitely frustrating coming over and losing (in March) and I couldn’t figure out how to get going because in some wins, it looked like we knew what we could do and then we’d lose the next two games.”
Kevin Love struggled from the floor for the second straight game, but he was a beast on the boards – leading both squads with 16 rebounds despite going just 2-for-13 from the field.
Love, LeBron and Tristan Thompson all grabbed double-digit boards for Cleveland – with Thompson adding 11 rebounds, 7 of those off the offensive glass – as the Wine and Gold outrebounded Indiana, 48-42.
The Pacers were led by Lance Stephenson’s 22 points off the bench – with the mercurial swingman going 9-for-15 from the floor to go with six boards and three assists before fouling out late in the affair.
The Cavaliers got the victory without having their best offensive performance. On the afternoon, Cleveland shot just 41 percent from the floor, including 9-of-31 from long-range. After struggling from the line in Game 1, however, the Cavs straightened themselves out in the rest of the series, culminating with Sunday’s 23-for-27 mark.
But as mediocre as they were on the offensive end was as sharp as they were defensively – holding the Pacers to 47 percent shooting, including 10-for-30 from long-distance. Indiana shot just 59 percent (10-17) from the stripe and were held to four fastbreak points on the afternoon.
Turning Point — In Game 2, it was Kevin Love who took over in the third quarter and gave the Cavaliers a boost after intermission. On Sunday afternoon, it was Kyrie Irving.
Despite a 10-point first quarter, Irving didn’t seem like himself in the first half of Game 4 – and Deron Williams got the lion’s share of minutes in the second period.
But the four-time All-Star went into Uncle Drew mode in the third, propelling Cleveland’s 16-4 run and giving them enough space where they were able to weather a fourth quarter in which they shot 24 percent and scored only 18 points.
By the Numbers – 10 … times that LeBron James has swept a Playoff opponent in four games.
Quotable – Coach Tyronn Lue, on how LeBron James has been able to win 21 straight First Round matchups …
Up Next — After completing their third straight First Round sweep, the Wine and Gold will play the waiting game as the Raptors and Bucks duke it. While they await their next foe, they can at least plan the time and place. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semis will take place at The Q on May 1.
Calls of the Game