INDIANAPOLIS — The Cleveland Cavaliers are no strangers to epic comebacks.
This one, however, defies “epic.” Fantastic. Stunning. Shocking. They’re not quite there, either.
The Cavaliers did what has never occurred in NBA playoff history Thursday night, rallying from a 25-point halftime deficit to stun the Indiana Pacers, 119-114, in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series.
The Cavs now lead the best-of-seven matchup 3-0.
After a dreadful first half, the Cavaliers stormed out of the locker room on a 13-3 sprint and never relented. During a dominant third quarter, the Cavaliers’ offense, led by LeBron James, scored 35 points on 11-of-22 from the field, including 7-of-13 from 3-point range.
James scored 13 of his game-high 41 points in the period, doing damage inside and outside. He also added 12 assists and 13 rebounds, his 17th postseason triple-double.
Meanwhile, as was the case in Game 2 Monday night, the Cavaliers turned up the energy on the defensive end as well, holding Indiana to 17 points on 5-of-26 shooting in the period.
The Pacers were flustered. Their offense became stagnant and they started complaining about calls that didn’t go their way. Suddenly the free-flowing squad that carved up Cleveland’s defense in the first half had vanished.
With Pacers star Paul George silenced in the period, held to zero points on 0-of-5 from the field after tallying 23 points in the first half, the Pacers had nowhere else to turn. By the end of the quarter, the Cavaliers had trimmed the deficit to just seven points and had taken all the momentum.
James’ driving dunk at the 6:58 mark of the fourth quarter tied the game at 98 and his layup less than two minutes later gave the Cavs a one-point lead, 105-104. Treys by Channing Frye and James eventually made it 114-107, and just enough free throws in the final two minutes put it away.
As good as the Cavs’ defense was in the second half, suffocating the Pacers and sucking the life out of the gold-colored and once-raucous sellout crowd, it was equally as bad in the first half.
The 74 points tallied by the Pacers were the most the Cavs have allowed in one half in a playoff game. For Indiana, it’s the most scored in a first half this season, surpassing their previous best of 68, which came on April 8 against the Orlando Magic.
Still, when the champs needed stops on the defensive end they were able to get them, holding Indiana to 40 second-half points. This time, the Pacers were left picking up the pieces of their shattered defense.
During the second half, the Cavs scored 70 points. They made 12 3-pointers. They didn’t commit a single turnover, forcing the Pacers to have to execute in the halfcourt repeatedly.
Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Frye and Kyrie Irving each added 13 points. Kyle Korver chipped in with 12 off the bench.
Irving, who struggled with his shot all night, going 4-of-17 from the field and and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc, only played around eight minutes in the second half, as Lue opted to ride his bench. Love also sat out the final quarter as James, Korver, Frye, Deron Williams and Iman Shumpert played most of the period, with Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith rotating in.
At the 7:26 mark of the second quarter, James made a fading jumper while getting fouled by George. The basket was another slice of history, moving James into third place on the NBA’s all-time postseason scoring list, passing Kobe Bryant (5,640). Next up for James is Michael Jordan (5,987) and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (5,762).
James also extended his streak of winning at least one road playoff game in 27 straight series, a mark that dates back to the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. His teams have won 20 consecutive first-round contests, tying the longest such streak since 1983-84.
The Pacers were led by George. He scored 36 points on 10-of-28 from the field. Jeff Teague added 15 points.
The Pacers were 38-of-95 shooting as team, including 16-of-41 from beyond the arc.
The Cavs have a chance to sweep the series on Sunday afternoon.