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CLEVELAND — Sometimes, all it takes is one game, one shot, to get things back in order.
And if that is what it takes, you want the ball in the hands of LeBron James.
It worked yet again, as James knocked down a 3-pointer at the final buzzer to lift the Cavaliers to a 98-95 win over the visiting Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night, giving the Cavs a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.
“As a kid you always have those 3-2-1 moments. That’s what it felt like,” James said of the game-winner. “I was kid all over again, playing basketball at my house on makeshift hoops.”
The shot put a stamp on an another amazing night, the type of night only James can deliver. It was night in which he compiled 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. It was a night in which he went 14-of-24 from the floor and 15-of-15 on free throws.
It was a night in which the Cavs needed a victory, a reason to feel good about themselves, an actual edge as the series shifts to Indiana for Game 6 on Friday.
It wasn’t the perfect night, but for James and the Cavs, it had the perfect ending.
“He made a hell of a shot again,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said of James.
“You can run double teams at him to try to get the ball out of his hands. (But) he’s an excellent passer, he’s a willing passer. He sort of picks you apart if that’s what you try to do.”
Basically, like so many before them, McMillan and the Pacers learned that when it comes to James and the playoffs, there truly is no solution.
“He really did just impose his will,” McMillan said.
While James dominated, this series of twists and turns was assisted by fine performances from Kyle Korver and the Cavs’ second-half defense (for the most part, anyway).
Yes, for the first time all series, the Cavs gave a strong showing in the third quarter.
“It was one of our best third quarters all year,” James said.
It’s true, as the Cavs trailed by 56-49 count at halftime — then forced the Pacers into turnover after turnover, using defense to spearhead a 17-3 run that gave them the lead for good. Well, almost good, as the Pacers kept plugging away and ended up tying things with 3.0 seconds left.
James, as he’s known to do, took it from there.
Korver finished with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting. That including a 5-of-9 performance on 3-pointers. He is averaging zero points in the two losses … and 16.3 points in the three wins.
Korver’s emergence is perhaps the most understated part of this series. The Pacers’ preoccupation with the Cavs’ 37-year-old sharpshooter can make life easier for James.
Kevin Love added 11 points and 10 rebounds, though his shooting struggles (2-of-11) again reared their horrendously ugly head.
Also struggling mightily was Cavs shooting guard J.R. Smith, who finished 0-of-8. That means two of the Cavs’ starters combined for a miserable 2-of-19 from the field.
Smith and Love are two key returnees from the Cavs’ previous three runs to the Finals, and the Cavs are counting on them mightily this year. There inability to get it going is a big reason LeBron has had to do so much.
But of course, this is LeBron we’re talking about, and LeBron always makes it clear he is up for the challenge.
“LeBron is gonna have his fingerprints all over the game,” McMillan said. “He’s making his shots. He’s either getting to the rim, or (hitting) the game-winner, or his free throws. He’s making the shots we want him to take.”
Among the other highlights for the Cavs? Holding Pacers star Victor Oladipo to a 2-of-15 shooting night. It’s true that Oladipo missed some wide-open looks — but some of that was the result of him having to work so hard to get them.
“I think I got some pretty good looks,” Oladipo said. “I feel as though I just missed. … I’m looking forward to Friday night.”
Second-year big man Domantas Sabonis led the Pacers with 22 points in his second straight fine performance, and Thaddeus Young scored an underrated 16.
Cavs point guard Jose Calderon started again in place of the injured George Hill and scored six points. Jeff Green and Rodney Hood added five apiece off the bench.
“It’s one game,” James said, staying even-keeled. “We got a figure out a way to play a full, four-quarter game.”