The Indiana Pacers gave the defending NBA champions a scare in Game 1 in Cleveland, but LeBron James and the Cavaliers made more plays down the stretch to come away with a 109-108 win on Saturday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena.
After rallying from a double-digit deficit to take a brief lead in the final minutes, the Pacers hung tough and had the ball in the final seconds with a chance to win the game.
The Pacers put the ball in the hands of All-Star forward Paul George, but the Cavaliers double-teamed him. George passed to C.J. Miles on the right wing, who drove past Richard Jefferson and got a clean look from 18 feet, but the jumper did not fall.
“It was no surprise to see a double-team,” George said. “We should have known it was coming.”
“By the time it got to me, it was under four (seconds) and (the clock) was going down, so I thought I had to make a play to get us a shot off,” Miles added. “I thought I had a good look at it, but I left it a little short.”
With the win, the second-seeded Cavaliers maintained homecourt advantage in the best-of-seven first-round series with seventh-seeded Indiana. Game 2 will take place in Cleveland on Monday night at 7:00 PM ET.
The Pacers had not led since the 3:43 mark in the first quarter before a late-game charge saw them score 12 unanswered points, taking a 105-103 lead on Jeff Teague’s 3-pointer with 3:30 to play.
James answered on the other end, however, tying the game with a baseline dunk. After George missed a jumper, James then set up Kyrie Irving for a go-ahead jumper, giving the Cavaliers the lead with 2:33 remaining.
Cleveland’s much-maligned defense then tightened up down the stretch, holding the Pacers without a point for nearly three minutes until George’s 3-pointer made it 109-108 with 40.9 seconds remaining.
James missed a three on the other end, giving the Pacers a chance to win the game in the closing seconds.
George led the Pacers with 29 points, five rebounds, and seven assists, going 6-for-8 from 3-point range. Lance Stephenson added 16 points off the bench, while Teague had 15 points and four assists.
James was his usual brilliant self for Cleveland, finishing with a game-high 32 points, six rebounds, and 13 assists. Irving added 23 points and six assists, while Kevin Love chipped in 17 points for the Cavs.
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Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said before Game 1 that he wanted his team to keep their composure early and not allow the Cavaliers to ignite the home crowd with a fast start. The Blue & Gold accomplished that goal by matching Cleveland nearly shot for shot in a back-and-forth first quarter that featured seven ties and six lead changes.
Love got off to a fast start for the Cavaliers, knocking down two early 3-pointers and scoring 10 points in the first six minutes, while fellow All-Star Irving added eight points in the opening minutes. On the other hand, James seemed content to set up his teammates early and did not take a shot for the first nine minutes of the contest.
On the other end, the Pacers stayed competitive early with a balanced offensive effort, with George knocking down two 3-pointers and Monta Ellis coming up with a couple early buckets.
The Cavaliers eventually surged in front with an 8-2 run late in the first quarter that featured James’ first four points of the night and took a 34-29 lead into the quarter break.
James kept the Cavs’ going in the second quarter, racking up 10 points and five assists in the frame as Cleveland remained in front. George, meanwhile, kept the visitors within striking distance, tallying 10 points in the period, including two more 3-pointers.
Cleveland led for the entire second quarter, extending the margin to as many as eight points and a taking 66-59 lead into the break. Indiana shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, but the Cavaliers were even better, converting 61 percent of their shots.
George continued his strong play in the opening minutes of the third quarter, quickly tallying nine more points. The Pacers cut the deficit to two with 4:50 left in the frame, but then LeBron took over.
James helped trigger a 10-0 Cleveland run that fired up the crowd and pushed the lead to double digits for the first time all afternoon.
After two free throws by Richard Jefferson, the Cavaliers got a mismatch with Teague switched onto James in the post. James scored easily over Teague, then got a similar mismatch on the next possession with Monta Ellis. This time, he kicked out to Channing Frye for an open three.
After a George miss on the other end, Kevin Seraphin corralled an offensive rebound, but James stole the ball from him, triggering a Cleveland fastbreak that ended with one of James’ thunderous slams.
“We have been poised and calm in these games, going back to the last game we played here in Cleveland,” McMillan said. “I thought we responded and gave ourselves a chance to win.”
The Cavs took a 92-84 lead into the fourth quarter, but Stephenson kept the Pacers within striking distance. Stephenson scored eight points in the first five minutes of the final frame, helping Indiana twice trim the deficit to six.
“I just tried to be aggressive, make smart plays, be in attack mode,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson then teamed with starters Teague, George, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner to continue the rally.
Teague’s 3-pointer from the left wing with 4:52 left made it 103-99 and then Turner’s layup 26 seconds later made it a two-point game. That was just part of what would eventually be a 12-0 run to briefly re-take the lead.
“We’re always good with that group when we get it and go,” George said. “Lance does a great job of pushing it, causing mismatches off that push, and we’re just playing. That’s where we’ve been great.”
But ultimately, James and his battle-tested teammates made more plays down the stretch, holding off the upstart underdogs from Indiana, just like they did in a double-overtime win over the Pacers in Cleveland less than two weeks ago on April 2.
“We believe we can beat them,” Teague said. “Something’s just got to happen at the end of the game for us. We had chances back-to-back games (against Cleveland) to win.”
The Pacers will practice in Cleveland on Sunday to prepare for Game 2 on Monday, which will air nationally on TNT at 7:00 PM ET.
Inside the Numbers
Ellis added 11 points for Indiana in the loss on 4-of-8 shooting. Turner added 11 points, eight rebounds, and four steals.
The Pacers finished the game shooting 49.4 percent from the field. Indiana outscored Cleveland 46-42 in the paint and shot 11-of-24 from 3-point range and 17-of-20 from the free throw line.
George’s six 3-pointers were one shy of the NBA franchise record for threes made in a playoff game. George hit seven 3-pointers on May 11, 2014 in Washington. Reggie Miller also accomplished the feat twice and Chuck Person did it once.
After shooting over 60 percent for much of the afternoon, the Cavaliers finished the game with a field goal percentage of .538.
Cleveland struggled mightily from the free throw line, going just 14-for-27 from the charity stripe.
You Can Quote Me On That
“We played them down to the end. I think we did a very good job of executing and just playing down to the wire, just making tough shots and playing to the moment.” -Young
“That’s all you can ask for on the road in a playoff environment — to have the last shot to win the game.” -Teague
“We’ve just got to challenge them. I don’t think we did that well enough — as far as being physical and really just playing tough — I don’t think we did that on the defensive end.” -George
“It’s tough. It’s hard to (be positive) immediately after the game, but you know at the same time that it’s going to be a dogfight. We’ve got a chance to win games, to be in this series, play hard in this series, and try to win it. The biggest thing is for us to come out with the same grit and a little better communication.” -Miles
“I’m happy we got the victory. I’m happy how emotional we were. I’m happy with the energy and effort…You always go into Game 2 even more prepared because you see what type of game plan they have. As the series goes on and on, you start to learn more about the team, learn more about your opponent, and we’ve got to get better the next game. But it’s a great start for us.” -James
Stat of the Night
James’ double-double was the 88th of his career in the playoffs. No player on the Pacers has played in more than 63 career postseason games.
- After a sprained ankle kept him out of the last nine regular season games, Pacers backup center Al Jefferson was active on Saturday but did not play. Glenn Robinson III was inactive with a left calf strain.
- Cleveland has now won eight straight games over the Pacers at Quicken Loans Arena, including regular season contests.
- James played in his 200th career playoff game on Saturday and passed Tim Duncan for fifth place all-time in postseason field goals made.
The Pacers will return to Quicken Loans Arena to try to even the series on Monday, April 17 at 7:00 PM ET.
After two games in Cleveland, the Pacers will come home to Indiana for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday, April 20 and Sunday, April 23. For ticket information, please visit Pacers.com/Playoffs »