With the game on the line, the Cavaliers had LeBron James, and the Pacers didn’t.
With the pivotal Game 5 of the first-round series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers hanging in the balance in the closing seconds, LeBron James did what he’s been doing for 15 years: took over, saved the day, and delivered his team a desperately needed victory.
James hit a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Thaddeus Young, providing a thrilling ending to a heartstopping fourth quarter and giving the Cavaliers a 98-95 win over the visiting Pacers to take their first lead in the best-of-seven series at 3-2.
The Cavs will now look to close out the stunned Pacers back in Indianapolis in Game 6 on Friday night.
Asked by TNT’s Allie LaForce what he told his teammates in the huddle before the Cavs’ final possession, James recalled a simple message.
“Just give the ball,” he said. “Give me the ball. They had a foul to give, so I wanted to go quick so they couldn’t give up that foul, because we had no more timeouts. So I was able to turn and get to my spot.”
If the sequence felt familiar to you … well, you’re not alone.
“It was like deja vu for a regular-season game we had versus Minnesota , where I got a block on the other end and then the game-winner. But that team never stops. That team never stops, and it’s going to be even tougher on Friday.”
It was a brilliant end to another brilliant evening for James, essentially the only reliable source of offense Cleveland’s been able to muster in this series.
He lived at the rim all night long, bulldozing his way to the paint time and again en route to 44 points on 14-for-24 shooting from the field and a perfect 15-for-15 mark at the foul line to go with 10 rebounds, eight assists, a block and a steal in 42 minutes of work.
Veteran sniper Kyle Korver continued to be James’ primary running buddy, scoring 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting (5-for-9 from 3-point range) with six rebounds in the win, which saw the Cavs prevail despite shooting just 41.3 percent from the field as a team.
As has been the case throughout the series, that the Cavs needed this kind of performance and this kind of late-game heroism from James this early in the postseason doesn’t seem to bode well for Cleveland’s chances of making a fourth straight NBA Finals.
Still, this result’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative, and with the East feeling as shaky and open as it’s been in years, being the only team that employs LeBron Freaking James still just might give you a leg up on everyone else.
And how different were the moods?