INDIANAPOLIS – Friday’s pivotal Game 3 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was taken over by Bojan Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic scored a season-high 30 points, including nailing seven of his nine three-point attempts, as the Pacers overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to grab a 2-1 series lead over the Cavs.
Indy limited Cleveland to just 33 second half points, as the Blue and Gold hung on for a 92-90 victory that allowed them to keep home court in the best-of-seven series.
LeBron James was his usual great self, posting 28 points and 12 rebounds, but Indiana did a good job of limiting his damage following a 46-point outburst in Game 2. James shot under 50% (10-for-22) for the night and played all but six minutes in a losing effort.
The exciting end result of this game was set up by a very rough first half from the Pacers.
Indiana was blitzed early on by the Cavs, who shot 61% percent and led 31-20 after one. A 15-2 run late in the first quarter allowed the visitors to gain an early comfortable lead.
The Pacers chipped away at Cleveland’s lead in the early stages of the second quarter, with James on the bench, but Kevin Love helped the Cavs build their advantage back up to double-figures. Once James checked back in around the midway point of the frame, the four-time NBA MVP powered the Cavaliers to a 57-40 halftime lead.
Down by 17 and a 1-2 series hole staring them down, something happened at halftime in the Indiana locker room.
The Pacers forced a quick Cavs timeout by scoring four easy points to start the third quarter. Those four points turned into a 13-4 run to start the second half, getting the home team back into the flow of things.
Indy’s defense was fantastic in the third, holding the Cavaliers to 12 points on 5-of-19 shooting. The Blue and Gold outscored Cleveland 23-12 in the frame, making it a six-point ballgame heading into the final quarter.
What a final quarter it was.
The Pacers continue to push, but seemingly could not get a big shot to fall to get them over the hump. Finally at the 8:38 mark, Victor Oladipo knocked down a pair of free throws to tie the score at 75. James and Oladipo traded hoops to make it a 77-77 game, setting up Bogdanovic’s first heroic feat of the night.
Looking for their first lead since the first quarter, Oladipo found Bogdanovic open for a big three-point attempt. The shot fell as Kyle Korver fouled Bogdanovic in the act of shooting and after the Croatian swished the free throw, Indiana led by four. As if the crowd in Indianapolis wasn’t already fired up enough, Bogdanovic came down on the next Pacers possession and drilled another triple to give Indy a 84-77 lead.
Bogdanovic was hit with his fifth foul shortly after, however, sending him back to the bench. James connected on two three-pointers while he was out, cutting the Pacers’ lead down to one with 3:41 remaining.
James evened the score at 84 with a free throw at the 3:25 mark, but Bogdanovic answered with a running bucket and another deep triple to shoot the Blue and Gold back in front by a score of 89-84. Later, with under a minute left, a Thaddeus Young layup made it a seven-point game again.
But the Cavs wouldn’t die.
James canned a deep three with 38 seconds to go. Cory Joseph then misfired on a triple, leaving 14.3 ticks left. James missed on another three ball, but Love wound up with the rebound and drained a three in front of the Pacer bench with 7.7 seconds remaining.
Darren Collison was fouled with five seconds on the clock, needing to make both free throws to give Indiana a three-point cushion. He made the first. But missed number two.
Without a timeout left, JR Smith raced down the floor with the ball and his game-winning three-pointer was way off. The Pacers escaped with a remarkable win and did so without James even touching the ball on the game’s deciding possession.
James’ 28 and 12 led the Cavs, who will need more help from others to get back into the series. Love played through his left hand injury, scoring 19 points and grabbing six boards. Former Pacer George Hill was the only other Cavalier in double-figures, finishing with 13.
For the Pacers, Bogdanovic was the story. He scored nearly a third of Indy’s points (30 of 92) and had a game-best +18 rating. Oladipo didn’t have his best night, scoring 18 points on 5-for-15 shooting. Young was the only other Pacer in double-figures, hitting six of ten shots to score 12 points.
Other than Bogdanovic’s seven made triples, the rest of Indy’s roster combined to make just one of 17 three-point attempts.
Game 4 comes from Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday, with tipoff scheduled for 8:30 p.m.