INDIANAPOLIS — The Cavs know the pain of blowing a 26-point lead, with their April 9 collapse and overtime loss in Atlanta still fresh in their minds.
On Thursday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they inflicted the same devastating gut-punch to the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series.
Trailing by 26 with 49 seconds left in the second quarter, the Cavs outscored the Pacers 35-17 in the third quarter to cut the deficit at the break to seven. With 7:16 to play, the Cavs had trimmed the Pacers' lead to two. With 6:59 remaining, a driving dunk by LeBron James tied it. On the next possession, a running dunk by James gave the Cavs a two-point lead.
The energized Cavs had enough to finish the stunning turnaround. Scoring 28 points in the second half, James ran his streak of consecutive first-round playoff victories to 20 with a shocking 119-114 decision.
Channing Frye made a 3-pointer with 54.8 seconds remaining for a 114-107 lead and J.R. Smith greeted him with a zealous chest-bump as they headed to the bench after a Pacers timeout.
A 3-pointer by ex-Cav C.J. Miles with 14.4 seconds to go cut the Cavs' lead to 117-114, but Deron Williams made two free throws at the other end for the Cavs.
James finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. Frye added 13 points, 11 in the fourth quarter. The biggest flaw in his performance was going 7-of-14 from the free-throw line as was 2-of-4 in the final 47.9 seconds.
Paul George scored 36 points, with 15 rebounds and nine assists for the Pacers, but was held to 13 points in the second half.
The Cavs took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and can close out the series in Game 4 Sunday at 1 p.m. in Indianapolis. The Cavs have never lost a playoff series the previous 12 times they opened a 2-0 lead.
The Pacers made just 13-of-51 shots in the second half.
After giving up 74 points in the first half, the Cavs got back in the game in the third quarter as James poured in 13 points along with four assists.
The Cavs opened the quarter with a 13-3 run to cut the Pacers' lead to 77-62 at the 7:50 mark. Finding little success outside, Kyrie Irving began driving to the basket. They committed no turnovers in the third quarter.
The Cavs closed the gap to 89-84 with 31.4 seconds left in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by James. They had chances to do more damage at the free-throw line, but James missed two and Tristan Thompson split two in the final two minutes of the quarter.
Coach Tyronn Lue thought the Cavaliers' defense made progress in Game 2 Monday night, even though the Pacers' shooting percentage didn't reflect it. But the Cavs spectacularly regressed as the Pacers scored their most points in the first half all season, surpassing their 68 at Orlando on April 8. In the first two quarters, they shot 56.8 percent from the field, 58.8 percent from 3-point range as they took a 74-49 lead.
George's first-half stat line — 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists — looked like a great game for many.
The Cavs, meanwhile, could do little right in the first 24 minutes They shot 36.7 percent in the first half, were outrebounded 26-17 and committed eight turnovers (three each by James and Irving) that led to 12 points. Irving shot 3-of-12 in the first 24 minutes, Kevin Love 3-of-9.
George didn't score until 2:42 remained in the first quarter, missing his first four attempts. But his 11-foot jumper came during a Pacers' 10-0 run that broke open a 19-19 game. The Pacers outscored the Cavs 18-8 over the final 3:12 of the quarter as Kevin Seraphin scored eight of those.
The Cavs had J.R. Smith back in the lineup after he injured his left hamstring and missed the second half of Game 2. Smith contributed 13 points.
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