INDIANAPOLIS — After a devastating loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, J.R. Smith noted how the Cavaliers always rise up to adversity, even though the reason is inexplicable.
Smith was proved right, although there were some tense moments as the Cavs built a 16-point second-quarter lead only to see the Pacers go ahead in the fourth quarter Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Cavs survived high anxiety and evened the first-round Eastern Conference series at two games apiece with a 104-100 victory, thanks to two timely 3-pointers from Kyle Korver and LeBron James’ ability to drive the lane.
Game 5 is Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Korver, who started the game 0-for-4 beyond the arc, connected on two from long range in the final 3:46 and James went to the basket twice for layups as the Cavs gave themselves a 101-95 cushion with 1:52 to play.
The Pacers went cold down the stretch, failing to score until a dunk from Thaddeus Young with 15 seconds to go. But Victor Oladipo made a 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining and Lance Stephenson tied up Jeff Green on the ensuing trip downcourt, the two rolling on the floor for possession, resulting in a replay review with nine seconds left.
After a long delay, the officials called a foul on Stephenson and sent Green to the free-throw line. He made the first despite loud boos and missed the second.
Bojan Bogdanovic, the Pacers’ hero in Game 4, missed at the other end and James rebounded.
James led the Cavs with 32 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, and Korver contributed 18 points. Smith and Jordan Clarkson added 12 points each, the first time in the series the Cavs had more than three players score in double figures.
It was James’ 100th career 30-point game in the postseason, joining Michael Jordan (109) as the only players in league history to reach the century mark.
James shot 12-of-22 from the field despite going 0-for-5 on 3-pointers.
Korver made four of nine 3-pointers, reaching 200 for his postseason career, and also made two key free throws with 14 seconds remaining.
Oladipo shot just 5-of-20 from the field, 3-for-8 from long range, for 17 points. Myles Turner also contributed 17.
The Cavs are trying to come back and win a series after falling behind at least 2-1 for the fifth time in franchise history. They pulled off the feat in the 1992 semifinals against the Boston Celtics, in the 2007 conference finals against the Detroit Pistons, in the 2015 semifinals against the Chicago Bulls and in the 2016 Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
The Cavs took command in the second quarter, but as has been their tendency all season, frittered away their big lead. On Friday, they led by 17 at halftime only to lose by two.
James even let old nemesis Stephenson get under his skin, shoving him away and getting called for a technical foul with 6:12 remaining. With 4:47 to go, Stephenson tied up James on a jump ball on a Cavs’ offensive possession.
The Pacers trailed 60-50 at the half, but started the third quarter with a 10-2 run, five of the points by Turner, who opened with a layup and then added a 3-pointer.
It remains a maddening trait that has dogged the Cavs for months.
“We’ve had horrible third quarters all season. If I could put my finger on it, we’d change it,” James said at shootaround. “So you just hope going into the next time, coming out of the break that you play better.”
The Pacers also had Bogdanovic heat up in the third with eight points, including two 3-pointers. On Friday, Bogdanovic exploded for 30 points, 15 in the fourth quarter.
Kevin Love continued to struggle in the playoffs, manhandled inside by Thaddeus Young, especially in the third quarter. At the 4:15 mark, Young blocked a Love layup, then after Love rebounded, Young took the ball out of Love’s hands. Young scored the Pacers’ last four points of the quarter on a rebound tip and a driving dunk.
But the Cavs hung on to an 80-78 lead after three quarters as Korver scored eight points, including his first two 3-pointers of the night.
In the second quarter, James was able to get to the line for six free-throw attempts and made all of them, giving him 23 points in the first half. James made eight of 11 field goals, two of his misses coming from 3-point range, along with six rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 22 minutes.
The Cavs led 60-50 at halftime, shooting 54 percent from the field (21-of-39) and making 13-of-14 from the free-throw line.
They did struggle beyond the arc, making only five of 17, as Korver went 0-for-4 in the first half. Korver finally connected from long range with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
Clarkson spent some time at the point and made his first five shots in a span of 13 minutes and totaled 12 at intermission. He went 4-for-14 for 10 points in the first three games.
Smith pitched in nine points in the first quarter, including a 61-foot shot launched from the arc at the Pacers’ end to beat the buzzer and push the Cavs’ lead to 30-24.
Love was sidelined for all but 1:30 of the first quarter after picking up two quick fouls, one on a turnover, another on a charging call. Lue stuck with his vow to play Tristan Thompson, sending him in for Love.
The Cavs were without starting point guard George Hill, stricken with back spasms in Game 3 that were prompted by Trevor Booker hitting him on an illegal screen in Game 1. Jose Calderon made his first postseason start since 2014 in place of Hill.
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