CLEVELAND — There were a few scary moments and one very frightening one, but nothing cramped the Cavalers’ style Sunday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena.
Even when a cramping LeBron James went to the locker room with a minute left in the third period — and owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman followed — the Cavs held it together until their superstar returned to continue leading a 105-101 Game 7 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
The fourth-seeded Cavs will open Eastern Conference semifinal play Tuesday at 8 p.m. on the road against the top-seeded Toronto Raptors.
“I’m burnt right now,” said James, who had 45 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in 43 minutes and didn’t come out of the game until a minute was left in the third period. “I’m not thinking about Toronto right now. I’m not thinking about Toronto until tomorrow. I’m ready to go home.”
The 33-year-old finished 16-for-25 from the field, 2-for-3 on 3-pointers and 11-for-15 at the line in Game 7 while scoring 40 points for the third time in the series.
Even more impressive, he did all that on a day when he was so drained of fluids that it was suggested he receive a quick IV treatment in the Cavs locker room between the third and fourth quarters, which he declined.
“I just had a little injury we needed to take care of,” James said, adding, “I know I’m not going to leave a Game 7 saying, ‘ I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that.’ I’m going to leave a Game 7 knowing I did everything I could.”
For the series, James averaged 34.4 points on .553 shooting, 10.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists in 41.2 minutes. Cleveland’s second-leading scorer was Kevin Love, who averaged 11.4.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said when asked about James. “That’s why he’s the best player on the planet. He put us on his back.”
As great as James was, the Cavs might not have survived without Tristan Thompson, Love and George Hill.
Thompson, who started Game 7 after being totally out of the rotation for most of the series, finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while the struggling Love righted the ship long enough to score eight of his 14 points in the fourth period.
Hill, who had missed the previous three games due to back spasms, checked in for the first time with 7:12 left in the third period, played the rest of the way and provided 11 crucial points that included a 9-for-11 performance at the line.
“He was on a minutes restriction — 18 to 20,” Lue joked of not using Hill earlier. “He was big.”
The real drama came when James went to the locker room with a minute left in the third. Trainer Steve Spiro followed, and soon after Gilbert and Altman were on their way.
James returned to the bench 45 seconds into the fourth and was at the scorer’s table ready to check in, but when Love hit a 3-pointer to make it an 82-74 game and the Pacers called timeout with 9:41 left, Lue elected to leave his superstar on the bench.
James finally returned with 8:25 to go as Indiana’s Myles Turner was completing a three-point play that made it 86-79. He scored seven points the rest of the way to improve to 13-0 in first-round series.
“He was amazing,” said Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, who overcame a slow start to finish with 30 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. “He did what he always does. It’s not shocking. He’s the best in the world.”
Even with James back on the floor, there were a few scary moments down the stretch.
The most important came when Indiana’s Darren Collison (23 points), who led the league in 3-point percentage, missed a wide-open three from the corner with the Pacers down 98-92. James rebounded, got fouled and hit two at the line to make it an eight-point game with 1:58 remaining.
An Oladipo drive made it a four-point game with 50.1 ticks on the clock, but Kyle Korver threaded the needle and hit a cutting James for a layup with 30.2 seconds left, marking the beginning of the end.
“I was scared,” Lue said of the pass. “Kyle made a great read, a great pass. LeBron made a great back cut. That kind of sealed the game for us.”
Said Korver, who had just three points on 1-for-7 shooting (1-for-5 3-pointers): “He’s the best receiver in the NBA. You’ve got to put it up there for him.”
Up 11 at halftime, the Cavs had another abysmal start to the third period, getting outscored 18-4 as the Pacers took a 61-58 lead at the 7:13 mark. Cleveland’s only points in that span were scored by Thompson.
James, who had one point over the first seven minutes of the quarter, scored 11 over the next four to give him 38 for the afternoon. He then went to the locker room and, when the third-period dust had settled, Indiana had outscored the Cavs 31-22 and trailed just 76-74 heading into the fourth.
The Pacers, however, could not take advantage with James out of the game.
“You have an opportunity to make a run,” said Indiana coach Nate McMillan, who elected to remove Oladipo to start the fourth. “He’s resting and we didn’t capitalize on that.”
James made his first seven shots and finished the first half with 26 points on 11-for-16 shooting — plus four rebounds and five assists — as the Cavs took a 54-43 lead.
“I thought I had a good motor, but his motor is amazing,” Thompson said. “He’s got a Lamborghini motor.”
Cleveland led 35-21, but its bench quickly blew that as Indiana went on a 10-0 run. The starters returned at that point and so did the dominance of the Cavs, who didn’t commit their first turnover until the 39-second mark of the second quarter.
The Pacers’ only leads of the game came during the third period, but they proved a worthy opponent for the Cavs, who entered the series having won 14 straight first-round playoff games, including 12 over the previous three years.
“They definitely pushed us,” James said. “They pushed us to the brink, actually.”
Cavs 105, Pacers 101
INDIANA (101): Bogdanovic 1-9 0-0 3, T.Young 6-13 1-2 14, Turner 2-3 4-5 8, Collison 9-13 4-4 23, Oladipo 10-21 6-9 30, Booker 1-2 0-0 2, Sabonis 3-10 4-4 10, Joseph 1-3 0-0 3, Stephenson 3-6 0-0 8. Totals 36-80 19-24 101.
CLEVELAND (105): James 16-25 11-15 45, Love 5-12 0-0 14, Thompson 5-6 5-6 15, Smith 3-10 2-2 11, Korver 1-7 0-0 3, Nance Jr. 0-2 1-2 1, Green 1-5 3-4 5, Hill 1-3 9-11 11, Calderon 0-0 0-0 0, Clarkson 0-4 0-0 0, Hood 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-74 31-40 105.
Indiana 19 24 31 27 — 101
Cleveland 31 23 22 29 — 105
PERCENTAGES: FG .450, FT .792
3-POINT GOALS: 10-31, .323 (Oladipo 4-9, Stephenson 2-4, Joseph 1-2, Collison 1-3, T.Young 1-3, Bogdanovic 1-7, Booker 0-1, Sabonis 0-1, Turner 0-1)
REBOUNDS: 37 (Oladipo 12).
ASSISTS: 15 (Oladipo 6)
BLOCKED SHOTS: 0
TURNOVERS: 11 (Bogdanovic 3, Collison 2, Oladipo 2, T.Young 2, Joseph, Sabonis)
STEALS: 6 (Oladipo 3, Bogdanovic, Collison, T.Young)
TOTAL FOULS: 28; FOULED OUT: Sabonis, Turner
TECHNICAL FOULS: Stephenson, 3:02 first; Collison, 5:07 third
PERCENTAGES: FG .432, FT .775
3-POINT GOALS: 10-29, .345 (Love 4-7, Smith 3-9, James 2-3, Korver 1-5, Clarkson 0-1, Green 0-2, Hill 0-2).
REBOUNDS: 44 (Thompson 10)
ASSISTS: 18 (James 7)
BLOCKED SHOTS: 4 (Green, Hill, Smith, Thompson)
TURNOVERS: 12 (James 4, Thompson 3, Clarkson, Hill, Korver, Love, Smith)
STEALS: 6 (James 4, Green, Thompson)
TOTAL FOULS: 21; FOULED OUT: 0
TECHNICAL FOULS: None
A—20,562 (20,562). T—2:41.
OFFICIALS—Tony Brothers, Brian Forte, Kane Fitzgerald, Scott Foster
- Better late than never: Cavaliers don't get first lead until overtime, still manage to beat Raptors in series opener
- Ingraham: Cavs simply own the Raptors
- Cavaliers 128, Raptors 110: LeBron James too much for Toronto with 43 points and 14 assists, as Cleveland takes 2-0 series lead
- LeBron James' heavy workload not likely to change if Cavaliers want to get past Raptors
- Crushing blow: Cavs facing Game 7 after falling flat with a chance to finish series against Pacers
- Jim Ingraham: It's Game 7 and it all comes down to this: Can LeBron James beat the Pacers?
- Tristan Thompson ready when called, comes through with double-double in win over Pacers
- Jim Ingraham: LeBron James gets an assist from his teammates for a change
- Rick Noland: Nothing left to do, Cavs fans, but sit back and enjoy the ride
- Cavs finally have strong third quarter in win over Pacers
- Ingraham: The King's reign soaks Pacers in Game 5
- LeBron hits winner as Cavs down Pacers in Game 5
- Ready to take his shot: Cavaliers sharpshooter Kyle Korver won't be afraid to let it fly, but he also doesn't want to force anything
- Rick Noland: Cavaliers remain impossible to figure out
- Cavaliers suffer second-half collapse against Pacers, blow 17-point lead to trail series 2-1
- Cavs hold off Pacers to tie playoff series
- Kevin Love: Cavaliers not feeling down, but know they can't afford to fall behind 3-1 to Pacers
- Jim Ingraham: The stage and stakes are looking overwhelming to every Cavalier not named LeBron James
- Noland: Current Cavs roster conjuring ghosts of bad supporting casts past
- LeBron James takes control early, scores 46 points to lead Cavs past Pacers
- Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith step in and up in Game 2
- Jim Ingraham: Cavaliers use a whole lot of LeBron to win Game 2, even series
- Cavs: Kyle Korver ready to go after trying times
- Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says All-Stars LeBron James, Kevin Love have to be more aggressive
- Cavaliers can't overcome rough start, awful shooting, drop playoff opener to Pacers
- Cavaliers' new lineup lacks aggression, execution in loss to Pacers
- Jim Ingraham: Someone should tell the Cavaliers the playoffs have started
- Cavaliers Playoffs: LeBron James owns openers and is ready for new challenge from Pacers
- Commentary: A slogan's real purpose -- Whatever It Takes for teams to take more money from fans
- Cavaliers Playoff Preview: LeBron James the lone constant -- and the reason for hope -- in a season of upheaval