For all the worry that surrounded the franchise during the final stretch of the regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers demonstrated on Sunday that the playoffs are a totally different animal, defeating the Indiana Pacers, 106-102 to advance to the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
LeBron James lead the way for the Cavaliers, scoring 33 points while grabbing 10 boards. Not only did James’ effort secure Cleveland’s spot in the next round of the playoffs, but he also etched his name into the record books, once again, by becoming the first player to win 21 straight playoff games.
However, for all of James’ 33 points, none of which was as important to the Cavaliers and their season as the three-point field goal he hit with 1:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. That three followed a stretch in which Indiana outscored Cleveland, 17-4 en route to taking a 102-100 lead.
The Cavaliers had ended the third quarter strong, closing out the frame by extending their lead to 11 points following two Kyrie Irving free throws. It looked as though that trend would continue on into the fourth, with the Cavs extending their lead to 13, just as LeBron James drained a free throw t0 finish a three-point play.
However, it was at that point that the Pacers mounted their final comeback of the 2016-17 NBA Season, as C.J. Miles connected on a three-point field goal that started the 17-4 run.
“That was a tough team,” James said, following the Cavs 106-102 win over the Pacers.
“We knew that coming into the series. They had the coach of the month and they had the player of the month. So we knew we had something to deal with. But we locked in. We locked into our schemes, our coaching staff gave us a great game plan going into every game and we just executed.”
James would also comment on how challenging it is to make deep play0ff runs, year after year.
“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 told the Associated Press. “It’s very hard.”
Kyrie Irving and Deron Williams also notched double figures for the Cavaliers, scoring 28 and 14, respectively. Kevin Love secured a team-high 16 rebounds, while Tristan Thompson would also play a big part on the glass, grabbing 11 boards.
Indiana’s effort was led by Lance Stephenson, who scored 22 points coming off the bench. Myles Turner notched 20 points, while Jeff Teague and Paul George would each finish with 15.
Even though the Pacers were swept, it certainly was not a runaway performance. The Pacers had multiple opportunities, not only in this game, but throughout the series. Even as recently as game three on Friday saw Indiana control a game with a 26 point advantage, but just couldn’t hold on, leading the way for a Cavaliers comeback performance.
For Pacers’ Paul George, it marks yet another loss against James in the playoffs.
“It’s real frustrating to continue on losing to the same team or same person,” George said. “Ultimately, he (James) is who I’m always going to have to see and face.”
The future for both George and the Pacers now seem to be uncertain. Paul George can become a free agent after the 2017-18 season. Time will only tell if Larry Bird and the Pacers brass will attempt to trade George in the offseason or make one more run at things next year. After all, George’s name did come up multiple times during the finals days of this year’s trade deadline.
“I’m not at that point yet. Next question,” George said, when asked about his future.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, The Cavaliers will be awaiting the winner of the No. 3 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks series, which is currently tied at two games apiece.
[Featured Image by Darron Cummings/AP Images]