After dropping Games 1 and 2 of their first-round playoff series in Cleveland, the Pacers appeared on their way to an emphatic bounce-back win in Game 3 on Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
But LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers showed why they are the reigning NBA champions in the second half. James registered a triple-double and scored 28 of his game-high 41 points over the final two quarters to lead the Cavs to a stunning 119-114 comeback win.
The Pacers set a franchise record for points in the first half of a playoff game, opening up a 74-49 over the Cavaliers through two quarters. But Cleveland rallied, outscoring Indiana 35-17 in the third quarter and eventually moving in front with 6:28 remaining in the fourth.
The two teams wound up trading the lead four times over the next couple minutes before LeBron James’ layup off an inbounds pass gave Cleveland a 105-104 lead with 4:52 to play. Kyle Korver’s 3-pointer pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to four points, but Paul George answered with a triple of his own on the other end.
James, however, continued his brilliant second-half performance by burying a three from the left corner that made it 111-107 with 2:50 remaining. The next basket didn’t come until Channing Frye’s 3-pointer with 54.8 seconds left, the finishing touch on Cleveland’s colossal comeback.
James finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists, going 14-for-27 from the field and 6-for-12 from 3-point range.
George was as brilliant in the loss, nearly recording his own triple-double. He finished with 36 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists.
The Pacers, however, struggled mightily in the second half, making just 13-of-51 shots (25.5 percent) over the final two quarters.
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The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair initially, with four ties and six lead changes in the early going. But the Pacers seized control midway through the period when their reserves triggered a 10-0 run to give the Blue & Gold the first sizable advantage of the night.
Lance Stephenson brought the energy off the bench in the early going. The fan favorite received a standing ovation when he first checked into the contest, then promptly drilled an open 3-pointer. Stephenson set up fellow reserve Kevin Seraphin early and often in the first quarter, as the Frenchman racked up nine points in just 4:25 in the opening frame, six of them coming during that 10-0 run.
As a team, Indiana was on fire in the opening period, knocking down 14-of-21 shots (66.7 percent) to open up a 37-27 lead over the defending champs.
The home team also got an encouraging lift early from second-year-center Myles Turner. The team’s third-leading scorer struggled mightily in the first two games of the series in Cleveland, but he knocked down a jumper on the opening possession of Game 3 and ignited the crowd in the second quarter with arguably the best dunk of his young career.
Turner missed a jumper on the right baseline, but hustled past Kevin Love to collect his own rebound, then bodied Tristan Thompson out of the way in mid-air while throwing down a monster one-handed slam that sent the sellout crowd into hysterics. Turner was so jacked up by the dunk he was still pounding his chest and gesturing to the crowd when J.R. Smith’s 3-point attempt bounced out of bounds on the ensuing possession.
George, meanwhile, got off to an uncharacteristically slow start offensively, missing his first four shots and scoring just two points in the first quarter before returning to his torrid playoff production in the second period. George erupted for 21 points in the second quarter alone, helping Indiana stretch its lead to as many as 26 points and taking a 74-49 lead into the break.
Indiana’s 74 first-half points shattered the previous franchise NBA playoff record of 65, set on June 2, 1995 against Orlando and again on April 17, 2004 vs. Boston. The Pacers shot 56.8 percent from the floor and went 10-for-17 from 3-point range in the first half.
The Cavaliers opened the third quarter with a 13-3 run to trim the deficit to 15. The Pacers pushed their lead back to 20 points after back-to-back 3-pointers by Jeff Teague and Stephenson, only for Cleveland to immediately reeled off 14 unanswered points, capped by a James three from eight feet beyond the 3-point line.
A pair of Seraphin free throws ended the Pacers’ scoreless streak, but James hit another 3-pointer on the other end to make it 89-84 with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Stephenson drew James’ fourth foul on the ensuing possession and knocked down both foul shots to give Indiana a seven-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers continued to chip away at Indiana’s lead in the fourth quarter, eventually tying the game at 98 on James’ driving dunk with seven minutes to play.
Cleveland stripped the ball from George on the next possession, leading to another dunk for James on the break, giving the Cavs their first lead since the 6:41 mark in the first quarter. Jeff Teague put the Pacers back in front with an acrobatic 3-pointer while drawing a foul on the other end, setting the stage for a wild finish that seemed utterly inconceivable just an hour and a half earlier.
Teague had 15 points and seven assists in the loss, while Thaddeus Young recorded a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Stephenson added 13 points and six boards off the bench.
Love, Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, and Frye each scored 13 points for Cleveland, while Korver added 12 on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
The Pacers will look to stave off elimination on Sunday afternoon in Game 4, scheduled for 1:00 PM ET at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
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Home Court Gift Shop Game Night Special
All Jerseys – $40. Game Night Specials can be purchased in the Home Court Gift Shop or any of our souvenir stands located on all levels of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The special is also available online at PacersGear.com until midnight.