INDIANAPOLIS – On a memorable night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Indiana Pacers (22-20) slayed the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers (26-16) once again.
Trailing by 22 points after the first quarter ended, Indy rallied for a thrilling 97-95 victory over the Cavs. Victor Oladipo, who nailed a big three-point basket in the teams’ previous meeting in Indianapolis, connected on the game’s deciding triple again on Friday.
Indiana’s win makes the them 3-0 versus Cleveland this season, the first time the Pacers have recorded three consecutive wins over a LeBron James-led team since his rookie year in 2003-04.
Friday’s ballgame could not have started worse for the Blue and Gold.
The Pacers led 6-4 just a few minutes into the game when the Cavaliers exploded for a 22-0 run. By the time the horn sounded at the end of the period, the Cavs held a sizable 34-12 lead. Indiana struggled mightily in the first, scoring a season-low for points in a quarter while turning the ball over frequently and looking anemic.
Indy looked considerably better in period number two, outscoring their opposition 32-24 to get themselves within 14 points at the half. Al Jefferson, getting minutes in the absence of the injured Myles Turner, provided a second quarter spark with eight points off of the bench.
While the Pacers inched closer to the Cavs in the second, they broke the doors down quickly to begin the third quarter. Indiana scored the first 11 points of the second half, bringing the home team within three points less than three minutes into the half.
Cleveland, led by James, answered Indy’s run by upping their advantage back up to 12 points by the 5:23 mark of the third. The Pacers would punch right back, however, using another 11-0 run to trim the Cavaliers’ lead to just one point. Then, with ten seconds to play in the third, a Darren Collison jumper from the corner gave the Pacers a 76-74 lead after three. It was Indiana’s first lead since 6-4 in the opening frame.
Friday’s fourth quarter was a fun one.
The Pacers and Cavs went back-and-fourth throughout the final 12 minutes, with each side owning leads down the stretch. Lance Stephenson, who has plenty of history with James, got after the four-time MVP again in the heat of the topsy-turvy quarter.
Trailing 82-80, Stephenson made a three to push Indiana ahead again. On the other end of the floor, Stephenson knocked the ball out of James’ hand and out of bounds. Frustrated, James shoved Stephenson and after review, was hit with a technical foul. Oladipo swished the free throw to give the Pacers a 84-82 lead.
James isn’t the best guy to mess with, though, as he led the charge on a 7-0 Cavs run that shot the visitors back in front. Cleveland’s lead was six with 3:57 to play when the Pacers mounted their final rally.
Domantas Sabonis knocked down a pair of free throws. Stephenson made good on a layup. And finally, Oladipo pulled up and canned a big three-pointer that handed Indy a 96-95 lead with 2:10 remaining.
Those final two minutes were tense, as the Pacers could not take advantage of multiple opportunities to build upon their late edge. Fortunately for the Blue and Gold, the Cavaliers came up empty on their end, too.
With 5.5 seconds left on the clock, the Cavs had possession and put the ball in James’ hands. With the much smaller Collison on him, it looked like Cleveland had a dream matchup for a game-winning hoop. Collison drove James down towards the baseline, though, and James’ left heel just did catch enough of the line to be called out of bounds with two seconds to go.
Collison made one of two free throws on the other end, leaving a sliver of hope for Cleveland. With 1.4 seconds on the clock and no timeouts, Kevin Love heaved a beautiful pass down to James on the right wing. James’ game-winning three was long, however, letting the Pacers escape with a huge victory.
James finished with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. As for the Pacers, Collison led all scorers with 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Oladipo chipped in 19 points and Stephenson turned in a productive performance with 16 points and 11 boards.
Friday’s come-from-behind win could be a much-needed boost for Indy, who now heads for a five-game road trip out west. The first of five is slated to start at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night, as Indiana faces off with the Phoenix Suns.