The Cleveland Cavaliers overcame a 26-point deficit to beat the Indiana Pacers 119-114 Thursday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the first round of the 2017 NBA playoffs.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Cleveland's win probability dropped to below 2 percent at halftime:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
25 - Largest halftime deficit overcome in postseason history 1.2%-Cavaliers chance to win at half according to ESPN In-Game Win Probability2017-4-21 01:56:39
Cleveland prevailed despite Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combining to score 26 points on 8-of-29 shooting. The Cavs turned into a one-man show in the fourth quarter, as The Athletic Cleveland's Jason Lloyd pointed out Irving and Love remained on the bench:
Jason Lloyd @JasonLloydNBA
It appears Love and Irving have been benched for the entire fourth quarter. Ballsy move. And it's working.2017-4-21 01:30:06
The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears tweeted about Cleveland's late-game offensive game plan:
Marc J. Spears @MarcJSpearsESPN
Deron Williams is like pass it to LeBron and get out of the way. Smart2017-4-21 01:36:20
Head coach Tyronn Lue's gambit paid off since taking Irving and Love out of the game left the Cavaliers with a slightly better defensive unit on the floor. And no player can single-handedly take over a game in the way LeBron James can. James finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists.
ESPN Stats & Info noted how much of Cleveland's offense went through its best player:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
LeBron James scored or assisted on 73 points, the most in a playoff game in his career.2017-4-21 01:51:14
The Pacers relied heavily on Paul George, who scored 36 points but struggled as he got less and less support from his teammates as the game went on. George shot 10-of-28, including 5-of-15 from three-point range.
The Pacers were coasting through the first two quarters, taking a 74-49 lead into the locker room at halftime. According to NBA on TNT, the 74 points were a franchise record for scoring in one half of a playoff game.
The NBA shared highlights from Indiana's first-half performance:
The @Pacers put up an #NBAPlayoffs franchise record with 74 points in a half! https://t.co/3b7kEOlB0m2017-4-21 00:32:16
Then the Pacers offense went off the rails in the third quarter. Cleveland outscored Indiana 35-17 in the third frame to make it a seven-point game, 91-84. The Indianapolis Star's Gregg Doyel showed how much had changed for the Pacers offensively compared to the first half:
Gregg Doyel @GreggDoyelStar
Pacers were 25-for-44 in first half (56.8 percent). They were 5-for-26 in 3Q (19.2 percent).2017-4-21 01:06:50
CBSSports.com's Matt Moore saw a worrying trend for Indiana:
Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball
Pacers are back in a jumpshooting contest with Cleveland and they’re not going to win that.2017-4-21 01:18:46
SB Nation highlighted one concerned Pacers fan after the Cavs cut the deficit to two points:
SB Nation @SBNation
Turning back to Cavs-Pacers for a minute: https://t.co/sAotpFCEAo2017-4-21 01:21:23
Cleveland took a 100-98 lead with a thunderous right-handed jam by James with 6:28 remaining in the game, courtesy of the NBA:
LeBron in transition on @NBAonTNT! #NBAPlayoffs https://t.co/obat2WVpJO2017-4-21 01:27:07
CBS Sports showed how Monta Ellis offered little resistance to LeBron before the dunk:
CBS Sports @CBSSports
Monta Ellis making business decisions https://t.co/81od0pzdEX2017-4-21 01:27:25
The Pacers continued to stay with the Cavaliers until Channing Frye connected on a three-pointer with 54 seconds left that put Cleveland ahead 114-107.
Many questioned whether the Cavaliers' sluggish end to the regular season was a foreboding sign of their ultimate fate in the postseason or if they could flip a switch in the playoffs—not unlike they did last year.
With the series in Cleveland, the Cavs narrowly escaped with a victory in Game 1 and were outscored 33-21 in the fourth quarter of Game 2, turning what should've been an easy win into a hard-fought affair. The first half of Game 3 was a continuation of a lackluster postseason performance from the Cavaliers.
Then they put together one of their strongest collective halves of the 2016-17 season.
Thursday's comeback will be quickly forgotten should Cleveland begin suffering the same problems that plagued the team in the opening two games of the series.
Should the Cavs go on to make the NBA Finals, though, Game 3 will likely be remembered as the turning point when things began clicking for the defending champions.