CLEVELAND, OH – LeBron James did it to the Indiana Pacers again.
Indy mounted a late rally and even had possession in a tie game with 26.3 seconds remaining, but James controversially blocked Victor Oladipo‘s layup and then canned a game-winning three-pointer as time expired to hand the Cleveland Cavaliers a 98-95 win.
James finished with 44 points (14-of-24 from the field, 15-of-15 from the free throw line), ten rebounds and eight assists.
Oladipo did not play well for a third consecutive game, scoring only 12 points on dismal 2-of-15 shooting. He was active on the glass, though, pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds.
Domantas Sabonis was arguably the best Pacer for a second straight game, scoring 22 points and grabbing five boards off of the bench.
The loss is crushing for the Blue and Gold, who trail in the best-of-seven series 3-2. Indiana has lost their three games in the series by a combined ten points.
The Pacers, who suffered through lousy starts in Games 2-4, got off on the right foot in Game 5. A 11-2 run helped Indiana jump out to a six-point lead at the 6:44 mark of the opening period, allowing them to play from ahead. Indy led by as many as ten in the frame, but James scored the final eight of the quarter to make it 25-23 after one.
Aggressiveness was key, as the Blue and Gold were on the attack. The Pacers shot nine free throws in the first quarter, connecting on eight of them. On the flip side of that aggressiveness, however, were seven Indiana turnovers that led to 11 Cleveland points.
The Pacers and Cavs played a pretty even second quarter, with Indiana leading by as many as nine and getting a bit of separation late. The Blue and Gold were on top by seven at 56-49 at halftime.
Sabonis and Lance Stephenson served as first half bright spots off of the bench for Indy. Sabonis, who scored 19 points in Game 4, put up a team-best 12 on four field goals and four free throws. Stephenson brought energy, per usual, and scored seven points and dished out three assists.
James kept the Cavaliers afloat nearly on his own, scoring 20 first half points on 9-of-11 shooting. The rest of his teammates combined to shoot 10-of-30.
Cleveland blitzed the Pacers in the first 3:09 of the second half, tying the score and forcing a Pacers timeout. The Cavs outscored Indy 17-3 to start the third quarter, flipping a seven-point deficit at the half into a seven-point lead at the 6:26 mark.
The Cavaliers continued to bully Indiana in the third, going in front by as many as 12, but Stephenson provided another spark as the frame ended. His three-pointer swished in as the buzzer sounded, cutting the Blue and Gold’s deficit down to eight. Despite committing more turnovers (seven) than field goals made (five) in the quarter, the Pacers still found themselves in the ballgame going into the fourth.
With 9:26 to go in the final quarter and James sitting on the bench for a breather, Indy trailed by just six. James sat for less than two minutes of game time, with the Pacers pulling within four when he returned to the floor.
Kyle Korver immediately answered with a triple to send Cleveland up 91-84, but Indiana hung tough. Indy kept clawing away, but still trailed by six with 4:38 to play. Then came the surge.
Thaddeus Young put in two buckets to make it a 95-93 game with 2:10 left. Each side couldn’t convert until Sabonis knocked down a jumper with 33.6 seconds on the clock, evening the score at 95. Cleveland took a timeout, but James turned it over with 26.3 ticks remaining and gave the Pacers the chance they needed.
Oladipo struggled mightily again, but the ball was still in his hands with the game on the line. As the shot clock wore down, Oladipo made his move to the basket and his shot was swatted away by James with three seconds left.
The Cavaliers got their stop, but not without controversy. Upon replay, it appeared James’ block came just after the ball hit the backboard. Goaltending probably should have been called, giving the Pacers the late two-point advantage, but instead Cleveland had the opportunity to break a tie game with a final bucket.
Enter James, who pulled up from the top of the key and made a game-winning triple at the buzzer. In hindsight, the Pacers had a foul to give, making matters worse.
Now on the brink of postseason elimination, Indiana will look to bounce back at home and force a Game 7. Game 6 comes from downtown Indianapolis, with tipoff time still to be determined.