INDIANAPOLIS — It was as rough of a first half as LeBron James has faced in his career, followed by as dramatic a comeback as the 70-year history of the NBA has ever seen.
The Cleveland Cavaliers erased a 25-point halftime hole to beat the Indiana Pacers119-114 on Thursday and go up 3-0 in their first-round series. It was the largest halftime deficit overcome in the history of the NBA playoffs. Cleveland trailed by as many as 26 points early in the third quarter.
The Cavs flipped the script with a masterful third quarter in which they outscored the Pacers 35-17 (mirroring the 33-20 outburst they had in the third in Game 2), with James nearly matching Indiana on his own with 13 points in the quarter, including three 3-pointers that moved him into fourth place on the all-time postseason triples list, passing Kobe Bryant — on the same night he also passed him for third on the all-time playoff scoring list.
Cleveland’s defense was more impressive than James’ offense, holding Indiana to 5-for-26 shooting in the period (19.2 percent). Indiana mustered just 40 points on 25.5 percent shooting in the second half.
James finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, his 17th career triple-double in the playoffs. Paul George had 36 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists, just missing out on joining James to become just the second pair of opponents in league history to drop triple-doubles against one another in a postseason game (Walt Frazier and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it against each other in 1970).
According to Elias Sports Bureau research, James’ ninth career postseason 30-point triple-double passed Oscar Robertson (eight) for most in NBA history. He also tied Jerry West for the second-most 30-point, 10-assist games in postseason history with 14; only Michael Jordan has more (15). James scored or assisted on 73 points, the most of his playoff career.
He played the entire second half and orchestrated a Cavs offense that had zero second-half turnovers after surrendering the ball eight times in the first half.
“LeBron willed us home, 41, 12 and 13, played the whole second half,” Cavs 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.”
After all the hand-wringing over the defending champion Cavs’ start to the playoffs after they nearly blew back-to-back double-digit leads at home, it was their turn to put a scare into the home team.
Only they did it to completion.
The comeback seemingly came out of nowhere. The first half could not have gone much worse for the Cavs as they shot just 36.7 percent (18-for-49) while allowing Indiana to shoot 56.8 percent (25-for-44). They were outrebounded 26-17, with Thaddeus Young a particular menace on the boards, finishing with 10 offensive rebounds.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t have a doubt in my mind,” Frye said of the comeback. “I felt like everything in the first half, no offense to them, but I think that was us, we were being too cool. They were playing great, I don’t think we were making them uncomfortable, I don’t think we were being physical with them. To be honest, I don’t think we were playing Cavs basketball.”
The 25-point halftime deficit tied for the largest of James’ postseason career, matching the time the San Antonio Spurs dominated him and the Cavs in the 2007 NBA Finals.
Korver pointed out the symmetry between the 26-point fourth-quarter lead in Atlanta that Cleveland failed to protect in the last week of the regular season, which ultimately cost the Cavs the No. 1 seed in the East, and the 26 points Cleveland clawed back from Thursday.
“That was a championship-level win right there,” Irving said.