Cavaliers dominate Pacers 119-114 in first round of playoffs
The Cleveland Cavaliers added another historical feat to their growing playoff resume when they overcame a 25-point deficit at halftime to defeat the Indiana Pacers 119-114 and all but secure their spot in the next round of the NBA playoffs.
The Cavaliers were led as always by LeBron James, who collected a triple-double of 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists.
James would also play every minute of the second half on another record-setting night for the Cavaliers. Before Game 3, no team had ever trailed by 25 points at the half and come back to win in the playoffs.
To call this season an odyssey for the defending-champion Cavaliers would be an understatement. The team was heavily favored to return to the NBA Finals for a rubber match with the Golden State Warriors. The general consensus by analysts and experts was that the Cavaliers would face little resistance on their way to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
The Cavaliers set out and accomplished these goals, but dealt with several streaks of inconsistency throughout the year. The last of these streaks saw the Cavaliers relinquish their hold on the number one playoff seed to the Boston Celtics. This set up a first-round matchup with the Indiana Pacers, a team that split four exciting games with the Cavaliers during the regular season—the last of which was a 135-130 double-overtime thriller won by the Cavaliers.
The two teams finally met again on April 15, with the Cavaliers favored to win at home having won their previous 12 home games. James also carried his own streak into the game having not lost a game in the first round of the playoffs since 2012 while playing for the Miami Heat.
James would score 32 points en route to a 109-108 victory. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would also pick up 23 and 17 points, respectively. Cleveland would show symptoms of the struggles that they dealt with throughout the season as Paul George, who finished with 29 points, frequently exploited a poor defense.
The game would be close throughout with the Cavaliers barely fending off a relentless fourth-quarter comeback attempt by the Pacers.
The Pacers would come up just short of a game-winner at the buzzer when C.J. Miles missed the final shot to seal a Game 1 win for the Cavaliers.
Game 2 followed a similar pattern as Cleveland entered the fourth quarter leading by 18 and again barely survived a furious run by Indiana to grab an 117-111 victory and 2-0 series lead. Cleveland’s “Big Three” was the story of the game as Irving led Cleveland with 37 points, Love with 27 and James with 25 of his own. Cleveland’s defense struggled to contain George who collected 32 points, but his contributions were essentially neutralized by the Cavaliers’ offensive onslaught.
Game 3 was as close to a must-win as possible for the Pacers, as no team in NBA history has ever come back from a three-to-nothing series deficit to win a best-of-seven series. Finally playing in front of their home crowd, the Pacers had reasons to hope; as dominant as the Cavaliers were at home during the regular season, they had a losing record on the road. Early on, the Cavaliers had few answers for a ferocious Pacer offense.
The Pacers scored 37 points in each of the first two quarters and headed to the locker room at halftime leading 74-49. The Cleveland defense, which had appeared vulnerable earlier in the series, seemed to have completely disappeared.
Cleveland would come out for the third quarter looking like a completely different team both literally and figuratively. A surprisingly ineffective Irving was benched for the second half of the game as was Love. The duo combined for just 26 points only one night after combining for 64. In their absence, Channing Frye, former Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams and the rest of the Cleveland bench put up a combined 30 points to outscore Indiana by 18 in the third quarter.
Like he has so many times before, James would then put the team on his back. He played every second of the second half on his way to another 40-point playoff performance.
For the third straight game, George would see another big night washed away in a sea of Cleveland buckets as his 36 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists were rendered moot.
The Cavaliers now have a stranglehold on the series. With Game 4 seeming like little more than a formality, the Cavaliers seem to once again be rounding into the form that made them such a force to be reckoned with in last year’s playoffs.