With just under four minutes remaining in Game 2, the Pacers were in the midst of yet another frantic comeback — the type of rally that has come to define their 2017-18 season.
But LeBron James, who struggled from the field during Indiana's Game 1 win, put a stop to every Pacers push, scoring a game-high 46 points on 17-of-24 shooting as the Cavaliers knotted the series 1-1 with a 100-97 win at Quicken Loans Arena.
In the fourth quarter, when Indiana inched back within eight points, James responded, drilling back-to-back jumpers and forcing an Indiana timeout.
When Indiana got it down to six with 4:30 remaining, it was James again, calmly nailing a jumper from the corner for his 42nd point of the evening.
But even then, the Pacers showed no quit, getting back-to-back buckets from Darren Collison and Victor Oladipo to make it a 90-86 Cavaliers lead. After a free throw from Cavaliers guard George Hill and a steal-and-score from JR Smith, the Pacers trailed by seven, but a quick 3-pointer from Collison once again tightened the game, keeping the Pacers within four points.
Moments later, Collison struck again from deep, making it a one-possession game with a three from the wing. After George Hill committed an offensive foul, the Pacers got possession with 36.3 seconds left in the game.
The Pacers ended up getting the exact look they wanted on the ensuing play, a wide-open Oladipo on the wing. But Oladipo's would-be tying shot was wide, as James hauled in his game-high 12th rebound of the night and was quickly fouled by Thad Young.
At the free throw line, James iced the game for the Cavaliers, making both free throws to push Cleveland back ahead by five with 22.2 seconds.
The 46 point performance from James was simply too much for the Pacers to overcome. While Indiana shot an impressive 52.6 percent from the field, the Pacers turned the ball over 17 times on the night, creating ample opportunities for James and company to get out in transition and control the tempo. Aside from James, only two Cavaliers players, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver, reached double figures in scoring.
For the Pacers, Oladipo was once again the primary source of offense, scoring 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting. With Oladipo dealing with foul trouble, Indiana relied on Myles Turner, who made 7-of-12 field goals on the night for an 18-point, five-rebound effort.
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In Game 1, the Pacers were the aggressors early on, opening up a lead and holding it for the entire night. But in Game 2, which featured a new-look starting lineup for Cleveland, it was all Cavaliers as James scored the first 16 points for his team while Victor Oladipo picked up two quick fouls, sending him to the bench just one minute into the game.
To change things up, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue slotted the sharpshooting JR Smith and Kyle Korver into the starting lineup, opening up the floor for James to go to work. In the opening minutes, James did just that, orchestrating a punishing 19-3 run to take a commanding first-quarter lead.
With Oladipo sitting for an extended amount of time, Turner took charge on offense for the Pacers, scoring nine first-quarter points. But even with the third-year forward's contributions, the Blue & Gold still trailed 33-18 at the end of the first quarter.
To begin the second quarter, the roles were reversed, with James on the bench while Oladipo commanded the Pacers' offense. Oladipo quickly shifted into gear, flying into paint for a layup, then drilling a 3-pointer to cut the deficit down to 11. Moments later, a pair of makes by Cory Joseph sliced Cleveland's lead down to 38-31 with 6:40 remaining in the half.
However, just as the Pacers got it as close as four, Kevin Love started to go to work for the Cavs. The All-Star forward started with a floater against Domantas Sabonis, then drew a foul against Oladipo — his third of the night — sending Love to the free throw line where he made all three looks.
Love's offensive outburst, coupled with a 3-pointer from Korver ended up pushing the Cavs back up by double digits with just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter.
As the half came to a close, LeBron James once again set the crowd ablaze with a thundering dunk in transition, dropping the Pacers to a 12-point deficit entering the halftime locker room. James — who faced media questions about being passive in the first half during Game 1 — racked up 29 first-half points, 20 of which came in the first quarter alone.
With the third quarter underway, the Cavaliers continued to connect from long range, using 3-pointers from George Hill and Kyle Korver to open up a 68-52 edge.
But Oladipo, playing carefully with three fouls, started to engineer a run for the Pacers, hitting on a pair of free throws and a swooping layup past James. A feed inside to Thad Young from Bojan Bogdanovic got things back down to 10, forcing the Cavs to call a timeout with 6:35 left in the third.
Even after the stoppage, Indiana continued its rally as Oladipo scored again on another acrobatic layup, capping an 11-2 Pacers run to draw within five of the lead.
James, as he had most of the night, had an answer to Indiana's run, hitting a fadeaway jumper from the wing to give the Cavs a 74-67 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers, when entering the fourth quarter with a lead, were a remarkable 39-0 this season. So with the odds stacked against them, the Pacers opened up the final frame on the right note, bringing the score to an 80-76 Cavs lead when Stephenson knifed into the paint for an easy make at the rim.
But at every chance for the Pacers to get their first lead of the night, James stood in the way, putting up one of the best postseason performances of his career to keep the Pacers at arm's length throughout the game and knotting the series in the process.
Inside the Numbers
While the Pacers shot better from the field than the Cavaliers (52.6 to 50.7), Cleveland lit it up from deep, making 11-of-28 threes compared to just 6-of-22 from Indiana.
The Pacers shared the ball more, racking up 22 assists compared to 15 from the Cavs.
LeBron James led his team in points (46), rebounds (12), and assists (5).
Stat of the Night
With his 46-point effort, LeBron James tied Jerry West at second on the all-time leaderboard with 20 postseason games reaching 40 points or more. Michael Jordan is number one on the list with 38.
You Can Quote Me On That
“Well, he switched the lineup, but them coming out aggressive was something we expected. We knew that they would come out playing with a sense of urgency with the new lineup or the change in lineup." - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan
“It was just a feel. Coach Lue called the first play for me and it went down, so we went back to it and I was able to get another one. I just felt like I was in a really good rhythm, so just tried to see how long I could stay in that zone and just try to make a mark on the game early on, especially after the way we started in Game 1.” - Cavaliers forward LeBron James
“Obviously, we’re upset about the loss. Just like the first game, it was only one game and this was only one game. We felt as though we had a chance to tie it, a chance to win and we feel confident going home.” - Pacers guard Victor Oladipo
"We really wanted to go home 2-0 but we got one on the road. We did our jobs. I can’t wait to be back in front of the Indy fans. I hope these guys are ready, I know they are.” - Pacers center Myles Turner
- With Oladipo dealing with foul trouble, Glenn Robinson III played his first minutes of the series, logging 1:26 in the first half.
- The Cavaliers are now 40-0 this season when taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
- Kevin Love injured his left hand in the fourth quarter, but Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue says he will be ready in Game 3.
- Indiana only got to the free throw line 12 times on the night, making nine of them.
With the series knotted at one game apiece, the Pacers return home to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to host the Cavaliers in Game 3 of their best-of-seven series on Friday, April 20 at 7:00 PM ET. Find Tickets »