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James does it again with Game 5 buzzer-beater

By JOE VARDON • Apr 26, 2018 at 1:48 AM

CLEVELAND — LeBron James hit one of the finest shots in his career and for the moment has turned the direction of the Cavaliers' franchise back in the right direction.

James' 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted Cleveland to a thrilling 98-95 victory in Game 5 of this first-round series against the Indiana Pacers. He finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists, and moments before his shot blocked Victor Oladipo from behind with the score tied at 95 to give the Cavs a chance.

The Cavs now lead the series, 3-2, and can close it out Friday in Indianapolis. A loss by Cleveland in Game 5, given what had transpired, would have been devastating. The Cavs would still have Game 6, but would be looking at the first opening-round exit of James' career with his free agency imminent.

Should James choose to leave the Cavs, a lengthy rebuild is likely. But nevermind that. That's talk for another day. James and the Cavs' Finals streak is still very much alive.

The Cavs hadn't scored a field goal since 7:19 of the fourth quarter, and no points at all since 4:38, before James' 3. He caught the ball on the in bounds, dribbled himself free and drained one from the top of the key.

It was absolute pandemonium at The Q when he made the shot.

Domantas Sabonis scored 22 points to lead the Pacers. His jumper with 33.6 seconds left tied the game.

Oladipo went 2-of-15 shooting for 12 points.

Kyle Korver was good again for the Cavs with 19 points and five 3s, including one in the fourth quarter.

This was James' 21st game of 40 or more points. He was 14-of-24 from the field and a sterling 15-of-15 from the foul line. The Cavs were 26-of-27 from the stripe as a team -- obviously a huge reason they won.

Kevin Love struggled to shoot (it's been a tough series for him), but he managed 11 points and 10 boards. He shot 2-of-11.

JR Smith took an 0-fer on 0-of-8 shooting (0-of-*6 on 3s), but his effort can't be discounted. He's chiefly responsible for guarding Oladipo. For the fourth time in five games, the Cavs failed to get four players to score at least 10 points.

The Cavs led the previous two games by a combined 27 points at halftime, and trailed Game 5 56-49. They also entered as the worst third-quarter team scoring wise in the playoffs, averaging just 18.8 points in third quarters.

So, not good, right?

Well, the Cavs blew the doors off to start the third quarter, opening the period on a 19-3 run. Shredded by the Pacers in the first half (they shot 56 percent from the field), Cleveland made a key defensive change by ceasing to shift on the top pick and roll, and it shook Indiana. The Cavs forced seven turnovers and the Pacers shot just 5-of-16.

James, well, he bullied his way to 15 points in the period -- even more impressive when considering his third quarters in this series. He entered ranked 38th in the playoffs in third-quarter scoring (4.0 points), and scored just four total while the Cavs choked away leads of 17 and 10 points in the previous two games.

The difference, maybe, was the rest James took in the second quarter. He sat a full four minutes in the second -- a luxury he wasn't afforded in Game 4 when he played 46 of a possible 48 minutes.

Take a bow, Tyronn Lue, for the halftime adjustment.

The Cavs led 81-73 when the third quarter was over, the Pacers saved a little by Lance Stephenson's 3 at the buzzer.

Stephenson finished with 12 off the bench.

The Cavs went back to switching that pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter, leaving Sabonis open and themselves vulnerable.

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