Wrap-Up -- As he had been through the first six games of the First Round, LeBron James was simply too much for the Pacers on Sunday afternoon – posting yet another monster performance at The Q. But it was another starter from the 2016 Finals squad who set the tone in Game 7.
Tristan Thompson got the spot start against Indiana, bringing his trademark physicality and aggressiveness to a team that had been lacking it in the Cavaliers’ three losses – helping propel the Wine & Gold past a feisty Pacers squad, 105-101, in Sunday’s win-or-go-home matchup in Cleveland.
”I’ve been telling (Thompson) all series long to just wait his turn until his name is called, and when it’s called, be that spark,” praised George Hill. “From the jump, he was that spark that we needed, and I think he just had a phenomenal game – probably the best I’ve seen him play in a while.”
After knocking out the Pacers, the Wine & Gold will now travel north of the border – taking on the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded squad, the Toronto Raptors, for the third consecutive postseason.
In his longest run of the postseason, Thompson doubled-up with 15 points and 10 boards – grabbing seven of those rebounds in the opening quarter as the Cavaliers took a 12-point lead after one.
From there, LeBron – who hit his first five shots in that first period – continued to do the club’s heavy lifting, going off for 40-plus for the third time in his last three home contests, finishing with 45 points on 16-for-25 shooting, including 2-of-3 from long-range and 11-of-15 from the stripe, adding nine boards, a game-high seven assists and four steals.
James was sensational throughout the First Round – averaging 34.4 points, 10.1 boards and 7.7 assists over the course of the seven-game battle. LeBron took his brilliant game to another level at The Q – averaging 45.0 points per in the final three games of the series and notching a triple-double in the opener.
LeBron logged the first 35 minutes of action before getting a brief rest to end the third quarter. He returned to action with 8:25 to play in regulation – putting in 43 minutes of work on Sunday and averaging just over 41 over the course of the series.
”We started the game with a unit that we knew,” said James following the win. “All five of us, we knew what we could get out of each other. We’ve been in situations before, we’ve played in big games before, so that’s a comfort to start the game.”
”I just think with it being Game 7, just go with the guys that have been here and been through it all,” added Coach Tyronn Lue. “They know what it takes.”
Cleveland got off to a strong start on Sunday and took an 11-point lead into the halftime locker room. But the Cavaliers were once again plagued by the third quarter funk that saw Indiana outscore them, 31-22, taking a brief lead on Bojan Bogdanovic’s triple with 7:13 to play in the period.
But the Cavaliers got excellent production from both Kevin Love and George Hill in the final quarter – with the five-time All-Star netting eight of his 14 points in the period and Hill bouncing back from a three-game layoff to net nine of his 11 points (along with five boards, two assists and a block) in the final 12 minutes.
JR Smith rounded out the Cavaliers in double-figures – finishing with 11 points, going 3-for-9 from beyond the arc to go with three boards and two assists while trying to contain Indiana’s All-Star guard, Victor Oladipo, on the defensive end.
Despite Smith’s defense, Oladipo was outstanding again in Game 7 – leading Indiana in scoring (30), rebounds (12) and assists (8). Darren Collison put up strong numbers – adding 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting – but it seemed like each of his four misses came at critical junctures for Indiana.
The insertion of Thompson into the rotation had a ripple effect along a Pacers frontline that had dominated Cleveland over the past three games. Thad Young still doubled-up with 14 points and 10 boards, but Myles Turner fouled out with just eight points on three shot attempts and Domantas Sabonis – who’d shot 74 percent from the floor in Games 4 through 6 – went just 3-of-10 off the bench on Sunday.
As expected, open shots were tough to come by in a Game 7 – with the Pacers shooting 45 percent from the floor to 43 percent for the Cavs. Both teams canned 10 triples on the afternoon, but the Wine & Gold took 40 free throws to 24 for Indiana.
Turning Point -- There’s always a concern – especially in the postseason – that things could fall apart with LeBron James on the bench. And after relinquishing a third-quarter lead with him actually on the floor, there was some trepidation about when to give him a blow on Sunday.
James left the game late in the third quarter and went directly to the Cavaliers locker room. He emerged to start the fourth, but sat on the bench as the Cavaliers took a two-point lead to start the fourth and converted it into a double-digit lead before the four-time MVP ever approached the scorer’s table.
Upon James’ return, the Wine & Gold bumped their edge to a dozen, 91-79, on Kevin Love’s bomb with 7:35 to play.
The Pacers would cut Cleveland’s lead to four, 100-96, on Oladipo’s layup with under a minute to play, but would get no closer as the Cavaliers closed out their campaign for the second straight season.
By the Numbers – 200 … Playoff games that LeBron James has now scored at least 20 points – the only player in league history to do so.
Quotable – Tristan Thompson, on his team’s mindset heading into Game 7 …
”There’s nothing like a Game 7. What I was telling the young guys is that this is what the playoffs are about, and a Game 7 – it separates the men from the boys. You’ve got to give everything you’ve got. After Game 6, I looked at LeBron, Swish and K. Love and said, ‘You know, we’ve been through this before. We’ve been to Game 7s. We know what it takes.’”
Up Next -- The Cavaliers will tip off the Conference Semifinals on Tuesday night in Toronto at 8 p.m., taking on a Raptors squad they took two of three from during the regular season. Game 2 is slated for 6 p.m. on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre before the series returns to Cleveland for Game 3 next Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. followed by Game 4 at the same time on Monday evening. Game 5 is set for next Wednesday in Toronto; Game 6, next Friday in Cleveland and, if necessary, Game 7 will take place north of the border – all times TBD.