Thursday’s NBA playoffs: James, Cavs come back from 26 down
Indianapolis — LeBron James celebrated another milestone with the greatest second-half comeback in playoff history.
Win one more at Indiana, the four-time MVP will be crowned king of the first round.
James scored 41 points while padding his postseason resume with yet another triple-double, leading defending champion Cleveland back from a 25-point halftime deficit to a 119-114 victory over the Pacers on Thursday night.
“We knew we had to take (some) punches, but it was a flurry, more than we expected,” James said. “At halftime, I was just looking at the guys and telling them ‘Let’s get a couple stops.’ ”
Officially, it will go down as the third-largest comeback in playoff history. But the largest halftime deficit overcome previously was 21 points, by Baltimore against Philadelphia in 1948.
As for James, he keeps moving up in the record books, too.
He scored 28 in the second half and finished with 13 rebounds and 12 assists, moving past Kobe Bryant and into third on the NBA’s playoff scoring list. Bryant had 5,640 points; James now has 5,669.
James also won his 20th consecutive first-round game, matching a feat achieved by three other former Lakers — Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and James Worthy. Win Sunday, and he’ll have the longest first-round winning streak under the current playoff format, which began in 1984.
Cleveland has won 11 straight first-round games since James returned to his hometown team.
And this time, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irvin got a firsthand glimpse of James’ mastery as they watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench.
Of course, none of that matters to James right now. All he wants to do is chase a fourth title.
“I just try to put myself in position to help my teammates win — no matter who’s on the floor with me,” James said. “I just don’t settle for being not as great as I can be. The only thing that matters is (winning) — that’s what I’m here for.”
Paul George did everything he could to get Indiana back in the series. He scored 36 points, grabbed a playoff career-high 15 rebounds and finished with nine assists, one short of his second postseason triple-double. He even held James in check in the first half.
And it still wasn’t enough.
Now the Pacers are one loss from being eliminated by James’ team for the fourth time in six years.
“Early on in the third (quarter), I saw it getting out of hand. I trust the guys on that floor, but I just thought — you know, I watched it kind of unravel — that’s when I should have stepped in and demanded the ball a little bit more,” he said.
After trailing 74-49 at halftime, James helped spur a rally that cut the deficit to 77-62. Indiana extended the lead to 20 on back-to-back 3-pointers from Jeff Teague and Lance Stephenson, and then it was all Cavs.
Cleveland finally tied the score at 98 and took its first lead since the first quarter when James scored on a dunk with 6:27 to go. The teams traded leads on each of the next four baskets, but after George’s 3 with 5:15 to go gave Indiana a 104-103 lead, James scored on a layup that started a 12-5 run to seal it.
“We just never quit,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “We knew the importance of this game. To go up 3-0, makes things a lot more difficult for those guys.”
More Eastern Conference
(At) Milwaukee 104, Toronto 77: Khris Middleton scored 20 points and Milwaukee overwhelmed cold-shooting Toronto to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Greg Monroe added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Bucks, who held DeMar DeRozan without a basket and never looked back after leading by 20 after the first quarter.
Making this blowout even more impressive was that they barely needed All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo. He finished with 19 points and eight boards.
Game 4 is Saturday back at the Bradley Center.
With raucous fans wearing black Bucks giveaway T-shirts to match the players’ uniforms, Milwaukee put on a dominating display of basketball worthy of the team’s “Fear the Deer” slogan.
The Raptors looked frazzled after shooting 4 of 18 in the first quarter. Kyle Lowry had 13 points.
(At) Memphis 105, San Antonio 94: Mike Conley scored 24 points and handed out eight assists as Memphis snapped a 10-game postseason skid against San Antonio.
The Grizzlies pulled within 2-1 in this first-round Western Conference series, giving first-year coach David Fizdale his first postseason victory. This also marked the Grizzlies’ first win over the Spurs in the playoffs since April 2011, when Memphis beat San Antonio in six games.
Game 4 is Saturday night.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph each scored 21 points for Memphis, which outscored San Antonio 31-17 in the third quarter and led by as much as 22 in the second half.
Kawhi Leonard, who scored 32 and 37 in the first two games, was held to 18. LaMarcus Aldridge added 16, and Kyle Anderson had 15 as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich benched his starters for most of the fourth quarter.