LeBron James, Cavaliers Outlast Pacers in Game 4 to Even Series at 2

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 22:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks to pass the ball against the Indiana Pacers in Game Four of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 22, 2018 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

LeBron James was not about to go down 3-1 to the Indiana Pacers.

The four-time league MVP led his Cleveland Cavaliers to a critical 104-100 victory over the Pacers in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, evening the battle at two apiece.

He challenged for his second triple-double of the series with 32 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists behind 12-of-22 shooting from the field, quickly establishing himself as the best player on the floor and preventing the Pacers from putting the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions on the brink of elimination.

James stuffed the stat sheet, but Kyle Korver connected on two critical three-pointers in the last four minutes, the first of which gave the victors the lead for good. He finished with 18 points and helped provide some much-needed support for James with the game hanging in the balance.

There was plenty of controversy at the end, as it appeared Lance Stephenson created a jump-ball situation with Indiana facing a three-point deficit even though he took Jeff Green to the ground. However, officials reviewed the play and rewarded Green with two free throws, and he calmly sank one to ice the victory.

Rachel Nichols of ESPN provided an explanation:

Korver's shooting and James' overall steadiness saved the Cavaliers from a predictable narrative. They blew a double-digit halftime lead for the second straight contest, only this time they came through down the stretch. 

It was more of the same for James after he tallied a triple-double in Game 1 and 46 points in Game 2. He used his physicality against Myles Turner and others in the lane from the early going and either scored in the paint or forced Indiana's defense to collapse, which opened up Korver and the shooters.

While he tailed off some in the third quarter with just one point, his mere presence creates additional space for his teammates. Korver wasn't the only one to capitalize, as JR Smith and Jordan Clarkson each had 12 points. Three of Smith's points came on a three-quarter-court heave at the end of the first quarter, but he connected on three other triples as well.

Their contributions in the backcourt were particularly important because George Hill was ruled out with back spasms before the game, per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.

They were also critical because Kevin Love, James' usual No. 2 option, struggled throughout after early foul trouble and finished with five points and 11 rebounds on 2-of-10 shooting. The silver lining for Cleveland, though, is it still managed to win a game on the road even though Love never found a rhythm.

That was largely because defense that was an abysmal 29th in the league during the regular season, per NBA.com, neutralized Victor Oladipo by swarming his outside shot, sending double-teams his way and clogging the lane on his penetration.

Indiana's go-to option scored 17 points but was 5-of-20 from the field and missed a handful of shots in crunch time. Oladipo's struggles were particularly problematic for the Pacers because they missed an opportunity with many of their role players thriving.

Turner (17 points) created problems for Cleveland's frontcourt, especially when Love found himself in early found trouble. He scored on the blocks, shot from deep, worked in pick-and-rolls, attacked off the bounce and kept the Pacers within striking distance early.

Domantas Sabonis (19 points and six boards) and Lance Stephenson (11 points and six assists) provided a spark off the bench and guarded James for stretches, while Thaddeus Young patrolled the paint and cleaned up the glass with a double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Cleveland now has momentum as the series shifts back home for Wednesday's Game 5. As long as it takes cares of business at Quicken Loans Arena, it will advance to play either the Toronto Raptors or Washington Wizards.

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