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Cavaliers survive Pacers in thrilling Game 7

By JOE VARDON • Updated Apr 29, 2018 at 7:47 PM

CLEVELAND — It's still LeBron season in Cleveland.

And maybe, just maybe, his friends have joined the party.

LeBron James extended the Cavs' playoff run and his tenure on this team with 45 points in Cleveland's 105-101 win in Game 7 over the Indiana Pacers.

The Cavs will play the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal Tuesday in Toronto.

James was magnificent. He started at point guard while coach Tyronn Lue moved Tristan Thompson from out of the rotation to a starting lineup that featured the team's only remaining players from its 2016 championship.

All Thompson did was go for 15 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes. Kevin Love, maligned for much of the series for his poor offensive play, scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.

JR Smith contributed 11 points and George Hill, after missing the last three games with back spasms, helped save Cleveland with 11. Hill didn't play until the second half.

James was picked up on the ABC microphones saying he intended to play all 48 minutes. He was headed that way until cramps forced him out (and into the locker room, with general manager Koby Altman, team owner Dan Gilbert, and two trainers in tow) late in the third quarter.

When James returned to the game with 8:25 left, his teammates had taken a two-point lead and turned it into an 86-79 advantage. He sat for nearly six game minutes, and he probably needed every second of it.

James' layup with 30.2 seconds to go gave Cleveland a 102-96 advantage. He peeled a rebound off Victor Oladipo's missed 3, and sank one of two foul shots.

Oladipo missed another three with about six seconds to go and Hill finished it at the line with a free throw.

Oladipo led the Pacers with 30 points and 12 rebounds. Darren Collison had his best game this series with 23 points.

James is now 5-2 over his career in Game 7s, and his teams have eliminated the Pacers from the playoffs in five of the last seven seasons. He's 13-for-13 in the first round. A loss would've immediately turned the discussion to his future and likely free agency this summer.

This was James' 200th playoff game of at least 20 points (the most in NBA history). He has 101 playoff games of at least 30 points; and 22 of 40 or more.

He finished with nine rebounds and seven assists in 43 minutes.

With his first steal, James passed Scottie Pippen (395 steals) for the most steals in NBA playoff history. He was 11-of-15 at the foul line, and made 25 consecutive foul shots between Games 5, 6 and 7.

Though they are the five players most familiar with one another on the Cavs, the lineup of James, Thompson, Smith, Love and Kyle Korver only played together for three minutes (over two games) this season. Lue used 30 different starting lineups during the regular season, and this was his fourth starting group out of seven playoff games.

Thompson entered Game 7 with one point and six rebounds for the series. He posted six points and seven boards in the first quarter Sunday. James made all five shots in the quarter, including a deep jumper with 0.2 left to put the Cavs up 31-19.

The Pacers went on a 10-0 run and got as close as four, but Cleveland carried a 54-43 lead into halftime. The Cavs committed just one turnover to the Pacers' eight and collected 11 offensive rebounds. Indiana missed its first six shots but wound up shooting 17-of-31 (.548) in the half.

Oladipo erupted for 14 in the third quarter and, like clockwork, the Pacers erased their double-digit deficit. The Pacers went on an 18-4 run over first 5:43 of the third quarter. That gave them a 61-58 lead before Smith's 3-pointer tied the game at 61.

The Cavs led 76-74 at the end of the third quarter, but James left for the locker room with 1:00 remaining. He scored 12 in the quarter and was up to 38 points when he left.

The Pacers outscored the Cavs 173-149 in the third quarter this series. It was almost almost enough to sink the Cavs.

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals is at 8 p.m. on Tuesday in Toronto.

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