Wednesday’s NBA playoffs: Cavs tie series; Popovich’s wife dies
Cleveland — The situation was dire, requiring playoff dominance. LeBron James delivered.
No surprise there.
Taking matters into his own hands, James scored 46 points and added 12 rebounds as the Cleveland Cavaliers bounced back from a poor performance in the series opener by holding off the Indiana Pacers 100-97 on Wednesday night to even their Eastern Conference playoff matchup at one game apiece.
Dazzling from the start, James scored the game's first 16 points and had 29 at halftime, ruling the floor as he has done in so many previous postseasons.
"Coach Lue called up the first play for me and it went down," James said. "So we went back to it. I was able to hit another one. And it just felt like I was in a really good rhythm, so I just tried to see how long I could stay in that zone and try to make a mark on the game early on.
"I played my game," he said.
But in a season in which nothing has been easy for the Cavs, Cleveland was lucky that Indiana's Victor Oladipo missed a wide-open 3-pointer that would have tied it with 27 seconds left.
"I got a clean look, I shot and I just missed," Oladipo said, shrugging his shoulders. "If I had that look again, I would take it every time."
Kevin Love scored 15, but Cleveland's All-Star center jammed his left thumb — the same hand he broke earlier this season— while deflecting a pass and sat out the final 3:43 left with the Cavs clinging to a slim lead. Lue said Love could have returned and "he's fine" for Game 3 on Friday.
As long as James is OK, the Cavs will always have a chance.
Lue shook up his starting lineup for Game 2 and Kyle Korver contributed 12 points, all on 3s, made several hustling plays and took two charges.
Oladipo scored 22 — he was in early foul trouble — and Myles Turner 18 for the Pacers, who shocked the Cavs with an overpowering win in Game 1 and head home full of confidence.
Indiana clawed back from an 18-point deficit and was within 95-92 when Oladipo, who scored 32 in the opener, somehow came free off a screen but missed maybe his easiest shot in two games.
"We blew a coverage and we were lucky and I'd rather be on time, on target than to be lucky," James said. "But he missed it and I was able to get the rebound."
James then made three free throws over the final 22 seconds as the Cavs avoided falling behind 2-0 on the series.
The 33-year-old James was expected to be more aggressive than in Game 1, when he was unusually passive, deferred to teammates and suffered the first playoff-opening loss of his career.
James was his unstoppable self again, and there wasn't a whole lot the Pacers could do about him in the first half.
"We just wanted him to set the tone and he did that by getting to the basket early, making a couple jump shots," Lue said. "But we ran the same first play until they stopped it. He kept getting what he wanted. We just kind of followed his lead from there."
Lue had been contemplating changes to his starting lineup and he made two moves, going with Korver and J.R. Smith over Jeff Green and Rodney Hood. Green didn't score in the opener and Hood only started because Korver was dealing with a sore right foot.
While the changes weren't that surprising, Oladipo leaving after 62 seconds was stunning.
Indiana's lightning-quick guard picked up an offensive foul and then got his second when he knocked over James, who was setting a screen. With Oladipo off the floor, the Pacers didn't have an offensive answer to James.
James made his first five attempts and scored Cleveland's first 16 points, making a pair of 3-pointers and then picking up assists on 3s by Love and Korver. James outscored the Pacers 20-18 in the first 12 minutes.
ERIN POPOVICH DIES
The wife of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has died. She was 67.
The Spurs confirmed Erin Popovich’s death Wednesday. The team didn’t provide further details.
“We mourn the loss of Erin,” Spurs general manager RC Buford said in a team statement. “She was a strong, wonderful, kind, intelligent woman who provided love, support and humor to all of us.”
The Popovichs have two children and two grandchildren. They met at the Air Force Academy in 1970s when he was an assistant coach for the Falcons. Erin’s father, Jim Conboy, was Air Force’s head athletic trainer.
Gregg Popovich has coach San Antonio since 1996, leading the Spurs to five NBA titles. San Antonio will face Golden State on Thursday night in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series.
Popovich ran the Spurs’ practice Wednesday. They Warriors lead the series 2-0.
Utah 102, (at) Oklahoma City 95: Rookie Donovan Mitchell scored 13 of his 28 in the fourth quarter to help the Jazz tie their Western Conference playoff series at one win game apiece.
Derrick Favors had career playoff bests of 20 points and 16 rebounds for the Jazz, and Ricky Rubio had 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the first playoff win of his seven-year career.
Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds for the Thunder. Paul George, who scored 36 points in Game 1, finished with 18 on 6-for-21 shooting. Carmelo Anthony scored 17, but made just six of 18 shots.
Utah outrebounded Oklahoma City, 56-46, to take home-court advantage from the Thunder. Game 3 will be Saturday in Utah.
Oklahoma City had two chances in the final minute to trim Utah’s lead with the Jazz leading 99-95, but Anthony missed 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
(At) Houston 102, Minnesota 82: Chris Paul had 27 points and Gerald Green came off the bench to score 21 as the Rockets used a huge second quarter to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.
Houston fell behind early, but went on top for good with a 37-point second quarter, powered by four 3-pointers from Green, and the Wolves didn’t threaten again.
The top-seeded Rockets won the opener by three behind a 44-point performance from James Harden on a night when most of the team struggled offensively. Things were much different on Wednesday when Harden had just 12 points as one of four Rockets who finished in double figures.
Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns had another disappointing game, scoring all of his five points in the first quarter, after being criticized for finishing with eight in the series opener. The All-Star big man went to the bench with about seven minutes left in the third quarter and didn’t return. Jamal Crawford scored 16 points for the eighth-seeded Timberwolves, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.