INDIANAPOLIS: The entire Cavaliers season has been an unfulfilled search for a 48-minute game.

It seems incongruous that a team led by LeBron James, a model of consistency, can be so prone to lapses. Lapses of inefficiency, lapses of attention, lapses of effort.

Should the Indiana Pacers knock them out of the Eastern Conference playoffs in the first round, part of the Cavs’ downfall will be their inability to play at a high level for more than a few minutes at a time. While some players will be more at fault than others, there will be blame they can all share.

The gritty Pacers made an early Cavs’ ouster possible with a 121-87 victory in Game 6 Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The outcome snapped the Cavs’ streak of 13 consecutive triumphs in potential series closeout games, an NBA record that dated back to 2009.

The series is tied 3-3 going into Sunday’s Game 7 at Quicken Loans Arena.

Even if the Cavs advance to face the top-seeded Toronto Raptors in the East semifinals, they will still be chasing the elusive 48-minute performance. Along with a bad matchup and a sprained left thumb that has led to an embarrassing series for five-time All-Star Kevin Love, the Cavs’ penchant for blowing leads has characterized their postseason.

In Game 5 Wednesday, the Cavs had a 12-point lead, but scored only one field goal in the final 7:19. Fortunately for them, the one was James’ 3-point buzzer-beating game-winner.

In Game 3, they wasted a 17-point halftime lead in a two-point loss.

In Game 4 they were up by 16, but scored just 20 points in the third quarter and won by four.

In Game 2, they built an 18-point advantage and won by three.

On Friday night, the Cavs never got to double digits. They made six of their first nine 3-pointers to take a 22-17 lead, but the Pacers went on a 12-2 run to go ahead 29-22. The lone points in that span for the Cavs was a James slam so vicious that he seemed to put his hand in danger.

After that, the Cavs were outclassed by Victor Oladipo and the Pacers. Oladipo bounced back from a 2-for-15 shooting performance in Game 5, exploding for 28 points, including 6-of-8 3-pointers. He added 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

The only memorable moment for the Cavs after that was an ugly one. With 2:13 left in the second quarter, James went down under the Cavs’ basket after being hit by Thaddeus Young. James suffered a cut above his left eye and cameras caught the blood streaming down James’ face.

James has repeatedly been asked about the inability to sustain leads, including after the most distressing of the losses, that in Game 3.

“We’ve had good times, we’ve had good quarters and we’ve had not so good quarters,” James said then. “I don’t think we’ve played to how we’d like to play as a team. We had a great game plan, we tried to stick to it as close as possible for 48 minutes. We weren’t able to do that.”

When Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was asked Friday morning about the Cavs’ failures in putting the Pacers away when they built double-digit leads, he saw a positive in that their defense was good enough to carry them.

Fans might not see it the same way, even considering that the Cavs ranked 29th in defensive efficiency in the regular season. From the outside, the lack of a killer instinct looks like another fatal flaw.

Part of the issue could be age. The Cavs had the oldest average age of the 16 playoff teams, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the Pacers were the third-youngest behind the Trail Blazers and Raptors. In the playoffs, Lue has relied on his veterans, preferring to have them on the court in the fourth quarter.

James, 33, also played all 82 regular-season games. He entered Friday leading the league in postseason minutes (42.8) and stood No. 1 on that list in the regular season with a 36.9 average.

That forced him to “save pockets of energy” against the Pacers, which he admitted after Game 3. When James goes into on-court rest mode, his teammates generally let down as well.

Should the Cavs fail to win Sunday at home, the Pacers’ blowout victories in Games 1 and 6 won’t be what haunts them. It will be Game 3, when they were outscored 52-33 in the second half after they were seemingly in command.

That wasn’t the only time it happened this season, but it could prove to be the most devastating.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.