CLEVELAND — LeBron James got the message and the Cavaliers got a much-needed win.
Urged to be more aggressive offensively by coach Tyronn Lue, the four-time league MVP scored the Cavs’ first 16 points — Indiana had one — as Cleveland defeated the Pacers 100-97 Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Game 2 of their first-round series.
The teams are now tied with a win each in the best-of-seven series. Game 3 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at Indiana’s Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
James, who didn’t take his first shot in Game 1 until 1:24 was left in the first quarter, took his team’s first eight this time around and made seven of them. He finished with 46 points on 17-for-24 shooting from the field, 2-for-5 on 3-pointers and 10-for-13 at the line while adding 12 rebounds and five assists in 40 inspiring minutes.
“It was just a feel,” James said. “Coach called the first play for me and it went down, so we went back to it and I hit another one. I just got into a really good rhythm, so I wanted to see how long I could stay in that zone.”
His team coming off its second-lowest scoring game of the season, a 98-80 loss Sunday in Game 1, Lue made two changes to his starting lineup, inserting J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver in place of Rodney Hood and Jeff Green.
That moved James from small forward to power forward, at least defensively, with George Hill once again starting at point guard and Kevin Love at center.
The way James played, especially early, it wouldn’t have mattered who else Lue started, particularly given the early foul trouble that limited Indiana’s Victor Oladipo (22 points, six assists) to eight first-half minutes.
“LeBron definitely did a great job setting the tone early offensively,” Lue said. “That got our defense going as well.”
Not that it didn’t get scary down the stretch of a game the Cavs led by 18 points in the first period.
A 3-pointer by Darren Collison (16 points, five rebounds, six assists) cut Cleveland’s lead to 95-92 with 51.2 seconds left, and the Cavs’ Hill was called for an offensive foul, his sixth, with 36.3 ticks on the clock.
Smith was on Oladipo on Indiana’s ensuing possession, but was screened by Bojan Bogdanovic and Korver completely blew the switch. Fortunately for the Cavs, Oladipo missed a wide-open three from the right wing, James rebounded and Cleveland hung on by making free throws.
“We blew a coverage,” James said. “That was the thought that went to my head. We were lucky. I’d much rather be on time, on target than lucky, but he missed it and we was able to get the rebound.”
Said Oladipo: “I just missed. If I had that look again, I’d take it every time.”
Love added 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting and eight rebounds — he hurt his hand in the fourth quarter but Lue said it was nothing to be concerned about — while Korver had 12 points on 4-for-8 3-point shooting.
No one else had more than six points for Cleveland, which must win at least one game in Indiana to win the series and keep alive its hopes of reaching the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year.
“It means the series is tied 1-1 and we’re going to Indiana,” James said. “We’ve got to be ready to play.”
After not making a field goal in the first period of Game 1, it took James just 16 seconds to hit a 12-footer in the key in Game 2. The 15th-year pro went on to make a reverse layup, a 17-footer, a 3-pointer and a 17-foot fadeaway before missing a baseline jumper with 8:56 left in the opening period
Undeterred, James came back with a drive and another 3-pointer to put Cleveland up 16-1 — no other Cavs player attempted a field goal while the 33-year-old started 7-for-8 — before Myles Turner (15 points, eight rebounds) hit Indiana’s first shot with 6:48 left in the quarter.
“He kept getting what he wanted,” Lue said. “He wanted to set the tone early. We just followed his lead.”
By period’s end, James had 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting, six rebounds and three assists and the Cavs owned a 33-18 lead, which marked a 34-point turnaround from their 33-14 deficit in Game 1.
“James just walked into the paint in the first quarter,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said, adding, “We’re better than that.”
Up as many as 18 in the first quarter, the Cavs saw their lead shrink to four in the second, but Oladipo picked up his third foul soon after and James scored six late points as Cleveland went up 58-46 at intermission.
That gave James 29 points, eight rebounds and four assists at the break, at which time he was 12-for-18 from the field after going 7-for-17 in all of Game 1.
“I never said I wanted to be assertive,” James said. “Coach Lue said it. I just wanted to play my game.”
The Cavs built their lead back to 16 early in the third, but ended up scoring just 16 points in the period and led 74-67 heading into the fourth.
The Cavs were up 10 with 6:46 left in the game, but Indiana quickly cut it to four and eventually got it to three, aided by 2-for-6 shooting at the line by the Cavs.
The Pacers, however, couldn’t get over the hump, thanks in part to key defensive plays by Smith, who stole the ball from Oladipo in the backcourt and scored, and Korver, who stripped Turner.
“They were huge defensively,” James said. “We definitely needed them.”
Cavaliers 100, Pacers 97
INDIANA (97): Bogdanovic 3-6 1-3 8, T.Young 4-6 0-0 8, Turner 7-12 3-4 18, Collison 7-11 0-0 16, Oladipo 9-18 2-2 22, Robinson III 0-0 0-0 0, Booker 1-2 1-1 3, Sabonis 2-8 2-2 6, Joseph 3-6 0-0 6, Stephenson 5-9 0-0 10. Totals 41-78 9-12 97.
CLEVELAND (100): Smith 2-5 1-2 5, James 17-24 10-13 46, Love 5-16 3-3 15, Hill 2-3 1-2 6, Korver 4-8 0-0 12, Nance Jr. 1-1 0-2 2, Green 1-3 0-0 2, Calderon 2-4 0-0 5, Clarkson 1-4 0-0 2, Hood 2-5 0-0 5. Totals 37-73 15-22 100.
Indiana 18 28 21 30 — 97
Cleveland 33 25 16 26 — 100
Percentages: FG .526, FT .750.
3-Point Goals: 6-22, .273 (Collison 2-4, Oladipo 2-8, Turner 1-1, Bogdanovic 1-3, Joseph 0-2, Sabonis 0-2, Stephenson 0-2).
Rebounds: 36 (T. Young 6).
Assists: 22 (Oladipo, Collison 6).
Blocked shots: 3 (Booker, Joseph, T.Young).
Turnovers: 17 (Oladipo 6, Stephenson 4, Turner 3, Bogdanovic 2, Collison, T. Young).
Steals: 8 (T. Young 3, Oladipo 2, Bogdanovic, Collison, Joseph).
Total fould: 23. Fouled out: None.
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .507, FT .682.
3-Point Goals: 11-28, .393 (Korver 4-8, James 2-5, Love 2-6, Hill 1-1, Hood 1-2, Calderon 1-3, Green 0-1, Smith 0-2).
Rebounds: 30 (James 12).
Assists: 15 (James 5).
Blocked Shots: 2 (Nance Jr., Smith).
Turnovers: 15 (James 3, Love 3, Calderon 2, Hill 2, Hood 2, Smith 2, Green).
Steals: 8 (James 2, Smith 2, Calderon, Green, Korver, Nance Jr.).
Total fouls: 19. Fouled out: Hill.
Technical Fouls: None.
A—20,562 (20,562). T—2:25.
Officials—Dedric Taylor, David Guthrie, Ed Malloy, Eric Lewis
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