Game three was absolutely outrageous.
The early energy was wild. Bankers Life Fieldhouse was rocking from the opening tip and both teams battled early. Loose balls were chased after and dove for. Charges were taken. Lance Stephenson heard roars from the crowd.
Then the Cavs stopped playing.
Indiana led by 10 after the first quarter, shooting 67% for the period. You might remember that Ty Lue pulled an all-nighter coming up with a “secret plan” to stop Paul George in the playoffs. Through the first half of Game 3, that plan appeared to be "don't defend anybody."
The Cavaliers acted like they wanted to take their ball and go home. Indiana’s lead swelled to over 20 by the 3:00 mark in the second quarter but it somehow felt worse than that. The Cavs kept fouling, the Pacers kept scoring, and the Cavs kept missing shots. It was 25 by halftime.
Around the halfway point of the third quarter, Indiana was up by 20 again.
But those Cavaliers, they can still play some basketball. A flurry of activity from the Cavs pulled it to about ten. Then a pair of LeBron James threes late in the 3rd cut the score to 89-84. Suddenly it became a yo-yo of a basketball game.
Indiana took it back to 10. Cleveland cut it back to five. By midway through the fourth, they were trading leads and trading baskets. LeBron would get a dunk, then Teague would hit a jumper. Frye would hit a three, then Paul George would hit a three. Notably absent from this stretch were Cavalier studs, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The two of them combined to shoot 8-29 from the field.
To his credit, coach Tyronn Lue stuck with the group that got the game close, leaving Love and Irving on the bench for the entirety of the fourth quarter. Instead, fans were treated to watching Channing Frye rain threes while LeBron James picked apart the Pacers, but we’ll get to LeBron soon.
The defense played quite a bit better in the final 15 minutes, limiting the Pacers to just 40 second-half points. The Cavs tipped passes and knocked balls away pretty regularly. The Pacers clearly lost some of their motion from the first half, but some of that credit goes to the Cavaliers defense. Even so, the story was LeBron James after halftime.
When the final horn sounded, the Cavaliers inexplicably pulled out the win 119-114.
This was LeBron as virtuoso, mystical, wizard-like hero. In the second half, LeBron put up a 28/6/7 line*. Once again, that was just in the second half. Not to mention this was against a solid defensive team which had jumped out to an enormous lead earlier in the game.
LeBron ended with 41 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists, one steal, two blocks, and zero second-half turnovers. He played all 24 minutes after halftime. He played most of them without his two most talented sidekicks. Even Tristan Thompson didn’t play for most of the 4th. LeBron did it all. It was unbelievable. He was a coach on the floor, but a college coach on the floor with sixth graders. He is incomparable in his brilliance.
OK fine, it wasn’t all LeBron, as Kyle Korver went 4-5 from deep and Channing Frye scored 13. Shump had a solid defensive night without taking a shot, Deron Williams hit some clutch free throws, and the bench just locked up the Pacers.
The Cavaliers are up 3-0, looking to close out the series in Indianapolis on Sunday.
*this might be off by one point.