CLEVELAND: The Cavaliers lived to play another day on Sunday.
The Indiana Pacers challenged the Cavs, but the men dressed in gold and blue didn’t have a number 23 in their lineup by the name of LeBron James.
The Cavs relied heavily on James and the Akron native didn’t disappoint in a 105-101 victory in Game 7 of a first-round series that was full of excitement and drama.
“You start thinking like is this it? Could this be it? That’s just human nature,” James said. “And then the other side of my brain was like, let’s go make something happen. Let’s go, that’s what you’re here for. You’re here to make plays, you’re the leader.”
Make plays and lead he did, much to the delight of a sellout crowd of 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena.
James totaled 45 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 44 minutes to dispatch a Pacers team that at one point in the series held a 2-1 edge.
“He’s the best in the world, and that’s what the best does,” Pacers guard Victor Oladipo said of James. “Now I got to work so I can get on that level.”
James, a three-time NBA champion, finished 16-of-25 from the field, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range, 11-of-15 from the free-throw line.
“I just try to do whatever it takes to help us win,” James said. “I was just trying to make plays offensively and defensively, and continue to trust my guys and trust myself and trust how much work I have put into my game.
“Definitely it is good to be able to make plays and help us advance. Kudos and a big shout out to the Indiana Pacers. They were tough. A tough team. … The head of the snake is Vic [Oladipo]. He made an unbelievable jump from last year to this year.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with his fourth different starting lineup of the series. Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver joined James in a starting five that didn’t feature a true point guard.
Regardless, the Cavs came out aggressively in the first quarter with James, Love and a rejuvenated Thompson. “I just think in Game 7, go with the guys who’ve been here, who’ve been through it all and know what it takes,” Lue said.
Thompson, making his first start since March 28, delivered 15 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes. Love (14 points, six rebounds), Smith (11 points) and George Hill (11 points) also scored in double figures for the Cavs, who will meet the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting Tuesday night in Toronto.
“It’s not very often when you’re able to split the game ball in half, but G. Hill and Double-T did that today,” said James, who surpassed Scottie Pippen (395) for the top spot in career playoff steals with 399 thefts in 224 postseason games.
Oladipo had 30 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in 42 minutes.
“He proved why he is a franchise-caliber player,” James said of Oladipo. “Everybody on down, they have just got a well-rounded team. … They pushed us to the brink basically.”
Darren Collison (23 points), Thaddeus Young (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Domantas Sabonis (10 points) also reached double figures for the Pacers.
James made his first two shots, both layups, Thompson added a basket and Love drilled a 3-pointer to give the Cavs a 9-2 lead, and force Pacers coach Nate McMillan to call a timeout with 7:43 to go in the first quarter.
“We started the game with a unit that we knew,” James said. “We’ve been in situations before. We’ve played in big games before so that’s a comfort to start the game.”
James scored seven consecutive points to push the Cavs’ lead to 26-14, a layup by Jeff Green made it 29-16 and the Cavs led 31-19 after one quarter.
James scored 13 points in the quarter, and Thompson had six points and seven rebounds after totaling three points and six rebounds in 24 minutes in the first six games of the series.
A jumper by James made it 35-21 before the Pacers responded with a run and trimmed their deficit to 37-33 with Collison, Sabonis, Oladipo and Cory Joseph leading the charge.
The Cavs responded with a 14-4 run to push it back to 51-37 and led 54-43 at the half.
James made his first seven shots from the field and first four free throws.
“He’s the best player on the planet,” Lue said of James. “He put us on his back and just scoring the basketball, facilitating, just being aggressive.”
Thompson made two free throws to give the Cavs a 56-43 lead in the opening minute of the third, but the Pacers went on an 18-2 run to lead 61-58 with 6:38 left in the quarter.
Once again, James stepped forward and scored 12 of his team’s next 14 points to propel the Cavs to a 76-74 lead at the end of the third quarter.
“He had a few games this series where he was incredible,” Love said of James. “I admire how he approaches every single game; and he was amazing today.”
A leg cramp sidelined James for the opening 3:35 of the fourth quarter, but the Cavs didn’t crumble and extended their lead to 86-76 with 8:41 left with three free throws by Hill, a 3-pointer and a jumper by Love and two free throws by Green.
“I just had a little minor injury that we had to take care of to get ready for the fourth quarter,” said James. “Those guys went on a run. Kev hit some big shots. He hit the pull-up off G. Hill’s pass. Jeff Green had got the post up, was able to drive middle and hit Kev on the right wing for another 3.”
The Cavs led 97-88 with 4:33 to when Myle Turner fouled out but the Pacers kept charging and trimmed the Cavs lead to 100-96 with 50.1 seconds to go.
But James scored on a precision pass from Korver to make it 102-96 with 30.2 seconds to go and seal the victory.
“There was some traffic,” James said. “He didn’t have to make that pass but he trusted I’ll catch it. And Bogdanovic was overplaying me. I went back door and it was one of the simple plays of the game — a give and go.”
Korver dubbed James as the “best receiver in the NBA.”
“I’ve been watching the NFL Draft a little bit the last couple days,” Korver said. “I don’t know where he’d be in that, probably up there pretty high.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.
Cavaliers 105, Pacers 101: LeBron James leads Cavs to a Game 7 win at home to advance to Eastern Conference semifinals
CLEVELAND: The Cavaliers lived to play another day on Sunday.