Comeback Cavs: Cleveland-Indiana, Game 3 Behind the Box Score

OK, I’m so disgusted that I’m just going to start right now. It’s halftime of Game 3 of the series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers, and I’m so outraged I’m not even going to wait for this box score to show up. Wait, what? You think I can just put the score up whenever and where I want, and move things around like some sort of computer magician? That would require a delete key, and some sort of … copying and pasting functionality. No way. I don’t want to get into the details, but I write “Behind the Box Score” on an ancient scroll passed down by bloggers from biblical times using a quill with disappearing ink that somehow transcribes onto the Interweb. I’m not totally sure how it works — it’s some Harry Potter-level shit.

My point being that I don’t have the patience for this box score to show. I need to vent now. The score will crawl into the frame like a Star Wars intro when it’s good and ready. But I’m just … too angry to wait. The Cavaliers think they can just come and go — just flip some imaginary metaphorical switch and suddenly be a good basketball team. This isn’t Banjo-Kazooie or something, Cavs! This is real! This is bas-ket-ball! The Cavaliers started Game 3 playing defense like … a wet … three-legged … cat … with asthma! I’m so upset that my similes don’t make any sense! The Cavs allowed the Pacers to dominate them in every aspect of the game. LeBron James is a bum, Kevin Love is garbage, Kyrie Irving is hot garbage, and Tyronn Lue is a moron. You know, I hope this team loses the next four games so we can just get this season over wi— wait, hold on. I think I see the score coming now. Annnnnd …

Cleveland Cavaliers – 119
Indiana Pacers – 114
Box Score

Cavaliers lead series 3-0

– the Cavs … won? Don’t I feel like an ass. I guess we should dig around in this box score and see what happened.

26 – The Cavaliers overcame a 26-point deficit to match the biggest comeback in NBA playoff history, tying a comeback by the 2012 Los Angeles Clippers against the Memphis Grizzlies. The 25 points overcome after halftime also were a record. Below is a picture of the score differential throughout the game? See the mass of yellow water with spots of red at the edge that looks like one of the water levels in Super Mario Bros.? That’s where the Cavs spent the majority of the game — underwater with the goofy-looking fish with big eyes and ugly squids with weird-shaped heads and all other manner of deadly water creatures. But they kept swimming through to the other end, and emerged back onto dry land with a 3-0 series lead.

41/13/12 – LeBron James authored a 41-point, 13-rebound, 12-assist epic on Thursday night, stunning the Indiana Pacers and their home crowd. It was only the fourth 40+ point triple-double in Basketball-Reference’s database,1 and only the seventh all time. LeBron James has two of them, and only he and Oscar Robertson have multiple 40-point playoff triple-doubles.2 James has the second-most playoff triple-doubles of all time, trailing Magic Johnson 30 to 17,3 and pulling within one of Michael Jordan for most 30-point, 10-assist playoff games. To top it off, it came on a night in which James passed Kobe Bryant to reach the third most playoff points and fourth most three-point field goals in the playoffs.

But amazingly, James’ game was even more amazing qualitatively. James’ Jedi powers were on full display in the second half, as he dramatized a thorough psychological and telepathic dominance by mind-controlling every facet of the game. He scored 28 points on 9-of-16 shooting (56.3 percent) with 4-of-8 threes, seven assists, and zero turnovers. He played every minute of the half, while playing free safety and defending Paul George as needed. There were two main highlights. The first was a pair of threes that caused the noose to tighten around the Pacers’ neck. It was after the second three that brought the Cavs within five points that I first even allowed the notion of the Cavaliers completing the comeback to percolate into my skull. James smiles like he knows what’s about to happen.

The second involved back-to-back blow-bys to start the fourth quarter, the first which resulted in a gentle lay in, and the second a thunderous jam off a turnover.

It was a masterful performance that only a handful of basketball players have been capable of: Magic, Michael, Bird, Oscar, Jerry West, and maybe Kobe Bryant.4 That’s the list.

This can’t last forever,5 so I impress upon Cavs fans: Enjoy this. Not only will this not last forever, Cavs fans know it won’t last forever — we already experienced it. We lived through the Christian Eyenga Era and 40-minute Alonzo Gee games. But we’ve been given a second chance! Savor it like the last sip of Scotch before a German soldier blasts your nuts off. (That clip is from a Quentin Tarantino movie, so obviously it’s NSFW.)

74 – So the Cavaliers overcame a 26-point hole and James thrashed in the second half. But how did they end up in that hole? Well, they allowed 74 first-half points for starters — tying the most points the Pacers have scored in the first half of a playoff game. The defense was not the worst they’ve ever played. (But it wasn’t good.) Credit the Pacers for exploiting the Cavs’ game plan, moving the ball to the weak side, making timely passes, and hitting open shots. Some of it was a mirage that seemed unlikely to hold up upon closer scrutiny (10-of-17 from three, 2-of-3 for Lance Stephenson), and it didn’t (6-of-25 from three, 1-of-4 for Stephenson in the second half).

40 – After conceding 74 points in the first half, the Cavaliers buckled down in the second half, granting the Pacers a mere 40 — 17 (!) in the third quarter and 23 in the fourth quarter. The effort intensified, the Cavs started switching more and only hedging on Paul George, and swarming passing lanes. The Cavs became increasingly physical on each successive possession, the Pacers started missing shots, and the Cavs slowly chipped away at what seemed like an insurmountable lead. It wasn’t an absence of effort that made the first half so ugly, but the casualness of it in the face of the Pacers’ desperation. The Cavs matched their intensity in the second half, and generally subpar defenders like Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, and Deron Williams (the J.R. Smith/Iman Shumpert platoon worked hard all night) improved demonstrably in the second half.

20 – LeBron James has now won 20 consecutive first-round playoff games dating back to 2012. He’s 46-7 (.870) in his career in the first round. The Cavaliers have not lost a first-round game since 2010 (13 straight). That’s bonkers. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that playoff basketball is hard. The No. 2 seed San Antonio Spurs lost to the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday after dismantling them in Games 1-2, the No. 3-seed Toronto Raptors lost by 27 to the Milwaukee Bucks to fall to 1-2, and the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics are down 0-2 with two road games against the Chicago Bulls looming. Playoff basketball is hard — it’s only LeBron James who makes it look easy.

0:00 – Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love played a combined zero seconds in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. It would have been mad to think that before the game — but it made sense during it. Kyrie Irving (4-of-17, three turnovers, a team-low -15) was having one of the worst games of his career, with his characteristic bad defense and disregard for the offense — but without any of the positives he normally brings. Kevin Love played fine despite shooting poorly (4-of-12, +5).

But Tyronn Lue sagely rode a lineup of Deron Williams-Shumpert/Smith-Korver-James-Channing Frye for the entire fourth quarter.6 Williams was playing better defense than Irving, finding others, executing the one-three pick-and-roll with James, and having a huge impact while taking one shot and earning two assists in the game. Frye’s height seemed to annoy the Pacers, and he hit two monster threes that consummated the comeback. No Irving and No Love won’t be the norm, but credit Lue for sticking with the lineup that was working on a night when Kyrie Irving didn’t appear to have it.

36/15/9 – Paul George continued his spectacular series on Thursday. Even though he shot only 35.7 percent, he scored 36 points, gathered 15 rebounds, and notched nine assists. George has a legitimate claim to the second-best player in the Eastern Conference when he’s giving it his all, and it’s possible that his career is perceived radically different if James doesn’t repeatedly terminate his drives to the Finals — James eliminated George’s Pacer teams in 2012, 2013, 2014, and, imminently, 2017.

0:06 – Tyronn Lue inserted ice-cold Dahntay Jones, who’s played all of 12 minutes in the NBA this season, into the game with five-plus seconds remaining in the first half, knowing full well that Jones would do something boneheaded like foul Paul George, extend the Pacer lead from 23 to 25, and make the second-half comeback all the more impressive. All-around genius move by Coach Lue.

  1. One of which was Wednesday, with Russell Westbrook’s 51/13/10 game. []
  2. According to an NBATV broadcast. []
  3. The 30 total was obtained from TNT’s broadcast, as Basketball-Reference only goes back to 1984. []
  4. Charles Barkley has a 40/10/10 playoff game, but it’s hard to imagine him controlling the flow of game like James did as a non-ball-handler. []
  5. Right? []
  6. Tristan Thompson played a little as well. []