CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers didn’t do things the easy way very often in the regular season, so why should their first playoff game be any different?
In danger of blowing a 12-point lead against the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers, the second-seeded Cavs survived to win 109-108 Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena when one of their former players, C.J. Miles, missed a fairly open jumper at the buzzer.
“We found a way to pull the game out,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’ll be better.”
Asked what kind of shape the inconsistent Cavs would be in had Miles made the shot, four-time league MVP LeBron James shook his head before answering.
“He missed, we won,” James said. “If there’s not a rain delay in Cleveland, do we win the World Series? You can’t ask that question.”
After James (32 points, six rebounds, 13 assists) missed what was probably an ill-advised 3-pointer with the Cavs up one, the Pacers rebounded, called time with 20.3 seconds to go and inbounded from just inside midcourt.
A foul — Cleveland had one to give — stopped play with 10.6 ticks on the clock, and the subsequent inbounds pass went to Paul George (29 points, five rebounds, seven assists), who was being defended by J.R. Smith.
George, who was at the top of the arc about 30 feet from the basket, took several dribbles before James ran at him, forcing a pass to Miles, who was above the 3-point line on the left wing.
Miles took two dribbles left, pump-faked Richard Jefferson and missed as the final horn sounded. The official play-by-play sheet called the shot a 14-footer, but it was closer to 21.
“The team did a good job of following the game plan,” Lue said. “We got it out of his hands and made someone else (try to) beat us.”
Miles, who had a season-high 27 points in a double-overtime loss at The Q on April 2, wasn’t up to the task.
“We got a good look,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. “You’ve got to knock that shot down. Yes, I do feel like we let one slip away.”
With 20,562 fans exhaling at once, the Cavs took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which resumes Monday at 7 p.m. at The Q.
Cleveland got 23 points, six assists and two huge steals from Kyrie Irving and 17 points from Kevin Love, but “The Big Three” combined to score just eight points on 3-for-14 shooting in the fourth period, with James missing two shots at the rim and Irving missing another.
The Cavs also made just 14 of 27 free throws (.519) on the afternoon, but none of that was enough to prevent James from winning his 18th straight first-round playoff game, a streak that dates to 2012 in Miami.
“We just have a resilient group,” Irving said. “We believe in one another. It was a resilient playoff win in the first game of a new journey.”
With the Cavs up 103-96, James and Irving missed layups on consecutive possessions, and the Pacers eventually made it 103-101 on a Myles Turner layup with 4:26 to go.
James again missed inside, and it became a one-point game when George split a pair of free throws. After a missed three by Irving, the Pacers took a 105-103 lead on a 3-pointer by Jeff Teague (15 points) with 3:31 left.
“We had a chance to kind of put the game away,” Lue said. “I thought we had three point-blank layups around the basket that we just missed.”
Just when things started to look real bleak for the home team, James tied the game with a dunk and Irving scored to put the Cavs up two.
Smith and James then each split a pair of free throws before George hit a long 3-pointer from the top of the arc to make it 109-108 Cleveland with 40.5 seconds left.
The Cavs survived from there, with Tristan Thompson contributing eight points and 13 rebounds and Channing Frye adding 11 points off the bench.
“Offensively, we got a little stagnant and started playing a little bit of isolation, which we’re very good at,” James said. “But no matter what happened, we came out with the win.”
The Cavs, who led 92-84 entering the fourth period, were shooting 63 percent and only up two in the third, but a 10-0 run gave them a 90-78 lead with 2:11 to go in the quarter.
After Frye hit a big 3-pointer, the spurt was capped by Irving twice scrapping on the floor to finally get a steal against Indiana big man Kevin Seraphin, then feeding James for a dunk that caused the crowd to go bonkers.
“I was just trying to help my team,” Irving said.
Cleveland shot .610 from the field (25-for-41) and Love (15), Irving (15) and James (14) combined for 44 points, which helped offset some bad defense as the Cavs took a 66-59 lead at the break.
Cleveland appeared to be on the verge of taking over on several occasions, but a 10-for-19 (.526) first-half performance at the line helped the Pacers stay close.
“We just have to do a better job of executing,” Irving said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
James didn’t attempt his first shot — a missed left-handed drive in traffic — until 2:33 was left in the opening quarter, but he made his next eight before going 4-for-11 the rest of the way.
The small forward, who spent a lot of the game defending shooting guard Monta Ellis while Smith guarded George, was just 2-for-7 in the fourth quarter, while Irving was 1-for-5 and Love was 0-for-2. But the Cavs held on.
“I’m happy we got the victory,” James said. “I’m happy with how emotional we were. I’m happy with the energy and the effort.”
And, above all else, he was happy Miles missed.
Cavaliers 109, Pacers 108
INDIANA (108): George 9-19 5-7 29, T.Young 3-4 2-2 8, Turner 5-12 1-2 11, Teague 3-10 7-7 15, Ellis 4-8 2-2 11, Miles 2-6 0-0 5, Seraphin 4-6 0-0 8, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Brooks 2-3 0-0 5, Stephenson 8-13 0-0 16. Totals 40-81 17-20 108.
CLEVELAND (109): James 12-20 6-9 32, Love 5-9 5-8 17, Thompson 4-5 0-3 8, Irving 11-27 0-1 23, Smith 2-4 1-2 6, R.Jefferson 1-3 2-4 5, Frye 4-5 0-0 11, Dero.Williams 2-4 0-0 5, Korver 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 42-78 14-27 109.
Indiana 29 30 25 24 — 108
Cleveland 34 32 26 17 — 109
Percentages: FG .494, FT .850.
3-Point Goals: 11-24, .458 (George 6-8, Teague 2-5, Brooks 1-2, Ellis 1-3, Miles 1-3, T.Young 0-1, Stephenson 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 9. Team Turnovers: 13 (10 PTS).
Blocked Shots: 1 (Turner).
Turnovers: 13 (George 4, Ellis 2, T.Young 2, Allen, Brooks, Seraphin, Teague, Turner).
Steals: 6 (Turner 4, Ellis, George).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .538, FT .519.
3-Point Goals: 11-28, .393 (Frye 3-4, James 2-3, Love 2-6, R.Jefferson 1-1, Dero.Williams 1-2, Smith 1-3, Irving 1-9).
Team Rebounds: 9. Team Turnovers: 11 (19 PTS).
Blocked Shots: 3 (Love 2, Irving).
Turnovers: 11 (James 3, Love 3, Irving 2, Smith 2, Thompson).
Steals: 7 (James 3, Irving 2, Korver, R.Jefferson).
Technical Fouls: None.
A—20,562 (20,562). T—2:25.
Officials—Scott Foster, Matt Boland, Tony Brothers
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