INDIANAPOLIS — In the course of a little more than two and a half hours, the Indiana Pacers experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. What seemed like a statement by a team looking to defend its home court, turned into a microcosm of the season it has been in Indianapolis.
After giving up 74 first half points and trailing by 25 points at halftime, LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers on one of the great comebacks in NBA Playoff history to stun the Pacers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference first round series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Thursday night.
James tallied a his 17th career postseason triple-double with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, including 28 points in the second half, to lead Cleveland to the largest second-half comeback in NBA Playoff history.
“Here we are up 26 to start the second half with a chance to put our foot on their throat and we came out relaxed,” Paul George said. “We didn’t pressure up on the ball, we didn’t make anything tough. You can’t do that.
George had a sensational night, nearly notching a triple-double of his own with 36 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. He was just 4-of-15 from the field in the second half.
“You have to come out with the urgency to put a team away and not give them any life,” Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said. “You have the opportunity to be even more aggressive with a lead like we had and I thought we came out kind of passive.”
“(LeBron) just willed his team and said, ‘I’ll put you guys on my back’,” Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s what playoff basketball is all about. You got to be willing to sacrifice and lay it on the line to win a game, and that’s what he did for us.”
The numbers are staggering. Indiana went from scoring 74 points on 57% shooting in the first half, to scoring just 40 points on 25.5% shooting in the second. They did not force a single turnover in the second half. They were ripped apart by Kyle Korver, Channing Frye and Deron Williams.
“It just happened so fast,” Lance Stephenson said. “Every time we made an adjustment, they made another adjustment.”
The undoing of the Pacers came in large part due to a massive collapse at the end of the third quarter. After Stephenson hit a 3-pointer with 4:37 to go to put Indiana back up by 20, Cleveland responded with a 17-4 run that cut the deficit to just seven going into the final quarter.
The momentum continued into the fourth, with Cleveland outscoring Indiana 35-23 in the final frame to secure the win.
For the Pacers, the task now is to avoid the first sweep in franchise history with a win in Game 4 on Sunday.
“Sunday will be a test of our character,” McMillan said. “We’re going in there and trying to extend this.”
In the words of Paul George, “we gotta look at this whole series as it’s still very winnable.”