INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers kept insisting this team was different.
Anyone who doubted them coming into the playoffs understands now.
On Friday, the one-year anniversary of a historic playoff collapse against Cleveland, Indiana flipped the script by rallying from a 17-point halftime deficit and held on for a 92-90 victory over the Cavaliers to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. They can take command of the series by winning Sunday on their home court.
“Last year’s team, I don’t know if we would have gone down 17, I don’t know if we would have overcome it,” forward Thaddeus Young said. “But this team, we’ve been resilient all year. We’ve overcome adversity.”
And on Friday they did it against a Cavaliers team that was 39-0 in the regular season when leading after three quarters.
Bojan Bogdanovic scored 19 of his playoff career-high 30 points in the second half, finishing 7 of 9 on 3-pointers. Victor Oladipo added 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Bogdanovic also spent most of the game defending LeBron James, who finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and six turnovers. He joined Michael Jordan as the only players in league history with 100 double-doubles in the postseason. Jordan had 109.
James almost single-handedly rallied his team twice from seven-point deficits in the final 3 1/2 minutes.
The three-time defending Eastern Conference champs were outscored 52-33 over the final 24 minutes.
“We were more aggressive in the first half. We had tempo, they didn’t,” James said. “Then they were more aggressive in the second half, they had tempo, and we didn’t.”
Young is one of the few players still around from the record-breaking, 26-point collapse last year, which is one reason coach Nate McMillan has continually opted not to discuss it.
After the Pacers cut the 57-40 halftime deficit to 69-63 at the end of three, the Pacers continued to apply pressure and eventually Bogdanovic finally broke through with a four-point play that gave Indiana an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. It was Indiana’s first lead since midway through the first quarter.
He was far from finished.
Bogdanovic knocked down another 3 to make it a seven-point game.
Then, after James countered with seven straight to tie the score, Bogdanovic scored on a layup and hit his final 3 before Young’s layup made it 91-84 with 53 seconds to go.
James and Kevin Love made back-to-back 3s to make it 91-90, and Cleveland got one more chance after Darren Collison missed the second free throw with 5 seconds left.
But J.R. Smith’s 38-foot heave came up short.
“It’s great to be on the other end,” Myles Turner said. “You never want to get down that far and have to try and come back. To be down in that position is not ideal. The resiliency of this team, it’s unbelievable.”
Cavaliers: Have lost five of seven to the Pacers and are 0-3 in Indianapolis this season. … Cleveland is 37-7 in the playoffs against Eastern Conference teams since James returned in 2015. … Love finished with 19 points and six rebounds despite playing with an injured left thumb. … George Hill scored nine points in the first quarter and finished with 13. … James has 12 straight double-doubles against the Pacers. He also played in his 221st career playoff game to move past Kobe Bryant for No. 6 on the career list.
Pacers: Have won only two of their last seven playoff games against the Cavs. … Indiana is now 12-3 in games decided by three or fewer points this season. … The Pacers have rallied from deficits of 15 or more points nine times. … Bogdanovic tied the Pacers’ playoff record for 3s made, which was done four other times.
Indiana’s fans booed the refs loudly throughout the first half. Then they really got upset after watching Oladipo crash hard to the floor on the final play of the half.
No foul was called and Oladipo slapped the floor before getting up and complaining.
If that wasn’t enough to upset the crowd, Larry Nance Jr. walked over and started yelling at Oladipo. That’s when Young stepped in and tried to peacemaker.
Nobody was called for a technical foul.
How bad was it?
Whether the verbal jabs provided any fuel at halftime, the Cavs certainly weren’t the same in the second half, when they were 13 of 28 from the field, 5 of 22 on 3s and had 10 turnovers.
James scored 15 points over the final two quarters, while his teammates accounted for 18. Following the game, James was asked about getting more support from his teammates.
“What are you guys looking for? You think I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus?” James said before the reporter explained that’s not what he meant. “I’m not about that. Guys have got to play better – including myself. I had six turnovers tonight. I was horrible in the third quarter. I couldn’t make a shot. If I make some better plays in the third quarter (it’s a different game).”
They said it
Cavaliers: “I’m confident,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “I think if we play the way we did in the first half, we can definitely win. We’ve got to win come Sunday.”
Pacers: “A lot of teams have been close with LeBron but he ends up winning,” McMillan said. “So we’re not in this thing to be close.”
Game 4 is Sunday at Indianapolis.
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