All the reports heralding the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers demise seem greatly exaggerated following their first-round Eastern Conference sweep of the Indiana Pacers.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the rest of the Cavs completed the finishing touches on Sunday, holding off the host Pacers 106-102 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for their fourth straight win.
Throughout the series, the Cavs owned the third-quarter, largely accounting for their advancement to the next round.
In all, the champs outscored Indiana 124-87 over that 48 minutes to make all the difference in a series they won by an average of just four points per game.
“Tough team, we knew that coming into the series,” James told ESPN in the aftermath.
“We locked into our scheme. Our coaching staff gave us a great game plan going into every game — just trying to execute it.”
The sweep was the 10th of James’ illustrious career, and the 14-year vet continues to turn heads in amazement.
Against Paul George and the Pacers, he averaged 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists over the series, including a game 3 triple-double where the Cavs rallied from a 26-point first half deficit.
The win also clinched James’ 21st straight first-round win, the most consecutive series victories by any player since the league playoff format expanded to 16 teams.
With the win, the Cavs assured themselves of a full week of rest before taking on their next foe and at least temporarily put to rest all those questions about their uneven regular-season finish.
The respite surely comes as a welcome development to vets like Deron Williams, Channing Frye, and Kyle Korver, all of whom had their moments against the Pacers after struggling to stay healthy throughout the regular season.
Against the Pacers in Game 4, James simply refused to lose, ending all the suspense with go-ahead 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining to cap off a virtuoso 33-point, 10 rebound, four assists, four steals, two blocks performance.
He also made a key late defensive stand against Thaddeus Young and grabbed a rebound off a rebound off a potential game-tying George three with just seconds remaining.
“You have to mentally challenge yourself every year and go out and try to do what’s right — putting your body on the line, putting your team on the line and trying to be successful,” James said. “It’s very hard.”
James’ heroics also tied him with Kobe Bryant for the highest postseason field goal total at 2,014 and improved his record to 52-0 in the postseason when his team takes a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter.
“They were giving it all they had,” he said of the Pacers.
“Obviously, a loss would have ended their season. We just had to weather the storm once again.”
James and the Cavs have now ended the Pacers season four time in the last six seasons. They finished the season 7-1 against Indiana, which suffered their first sweep in team history.
Cleveland will now take on the winner of the Milwaukee vs. Toronto series, presently deadlocked at 2-2.
For Indiana, all attention turns to George and the question of what his future might hold.
The 26-year-old veteran can become a free-agent in 2018, which could lead the Pacers to deal him this summer over fear of losing him to another team without netting any compensation.
“I’m not at that point yet,” said George, who has offered few other hints about what he might be thinking.
[Featured Image by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]