As the final buzzer sounded, LeBron James slammed the ball into the ground in celebration. As the Pacers walked off the floor, James celebrated with J.R Smith and other teammates. And they had earned it.
The Cavs trailed by as many as 26 Thursday night in Indianapolis. They trailed by as many as 20 in the third quarter. But behind a classic LeBron playoff performance — 41 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists and just three turnovers — the Cavs came all the way back to win 119-114, the biggest come from behind victory in NBA playoff history. Cleveland now leads the series 3-0.
Right away, it looked as if the Cavs might lose. In the opening quarter, they were outscored 37-27 and 37-22 in the second. In an effort to jumpstart his squad, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue moved away from the normal lineups and played his starters longer and earlier. None of it worked.
It looked bad in the third too. With 4:36 left, Lance Stephenson hit a three-pointer that put Indiana’s lead back up to 20 after the Cavs had cut it down to as few as eight. But by the end of the quarter, behind LeBron’s 13 third quarter points, the Cavs’ deficit was down to seven.
In the fourth, Lue turned on a lineup of LeBron, Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye with J.R. Smith checking in late. And it worked. A James dunk with 6:58 to go tied the game and a layup less than two minutes later gave the Cavs a 105-104 lead. James’ three with 2:50 to go and a Frye three with 54 seconds to go put the game completely out of reach; all the Pacers could do was foul as Cleveland iced the game from the line.
In the second half, the Cavs’ defense also turned it up as the Pacers scored just 40 second half points. Paul George lead the Pacers with 36 points. He scored zero in the third when the Cavs began their comeback.
Both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the entire fourth quarter. They finished the game a combined 26 points on 8-29 shooting.
Game 3 is Sunday in Indianapolis. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.