The Cleveland Cavaliers did not do much in the first two games of their first-round series with the Pacers to inspire confidence in their fans that they could repeat their title run from a year ago. They were trending in the right direction, but could not seem to make any big runs to pull away from the Pacers. They improved some throughout the first two games, but they still showed they had a lot of bad habits to fix on the defensive end. That was before the Cavs gave up 37 points in each of the first two quarters to a mediocre team and trailed 74-49 at the half. I’m sure a lot of people expected the team to do what they did most of the season when trailing by a large margin and just give up. They would have still had a 2-1 series lead.
However, that is not what playoff LeBron does. When his team struggles or has its back against the wall, he comes out swinging and finds ways to will his team to victory. Whether it was scoring 48 points (including his team’s final 25) in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Championship in 2007 to help propel his team the the NBA Finals, taking the Golden State Warriors to six games in 2015 without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, or willing his team back from a 3-1 deficit in last season’s NBA FInals, LeBron has shown he can put a whole team on his back and get the most out of them. When his team was looking very vulnerable and beatable once again on Thursday night, LeBron went into halftime and just told his guys they needed to start stringing together some stops.
He brought his team back yet again and reminded Cavs’ fans and the rest of the NBA that he should never be counted out. He posted a remarkable 41 point, 13 rebound, and 12 assist stat line, and he played the entire second half to ensure his team would not lose this first-round contest and jeopardize his personal 20-game winning streak in this round. When he gets into that mode, he is unguardable and makes everyone else around him much better. Once their confidence level increases and they start giving more effort on defense, it’s easy for the game to turn in their favor very quickly.
The Cavs started the second half by outscoring the Pacers 35-17 in the third quarter as LeBron played along with his fellow starters. That cut the Pacers lead to seven heading into the final period, and the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse could already begin to realize their fate. Once the Cavs tilted the momentum in their favor, there wasn’t a lot the Pacers could do to stop it.
LeBron played most of the fourth quarter with Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, and Deron Williams. LeBron drove and kicked to Korver, Williams, and Frye for threes which opened the lane for him to take the ball to the rim at will. Shumpert did a great job defending Paul George to make sure he didn’t heat up and get the momentum going back the other way. The other Cavs’ starters watched as LeBron and the reserves outscored the Pacers 35-23 in the final period to complete a postseason record comeback from a 25-point halftime deficit.
While the comeback and LeBron’s performance surely helped the Cavs and their fans gain some much-needed confidence that they are headed in the right direction, let’s not forget about how they got there. They only allowed 40 points in the second half, but they did give up 74 in the first half and dug themselves a huge that was difficult to claw out of. When LeBron is on your side you are never out of a playoff series (just ask the Warriors), but this team still needs to learn to play a lot harder and more consistently if they want to defend their title. Other teams will have less of a talent gap and won’t allow the Cavs to take possessions off. There is still a lot of work to do before they get there, but as long as LeBron is in Cleveland and playing at the top of his game, I dare anyone to tell him the Cavs can’t win the title.