The NBA will officially announce the winner of its Most Valuable Player award in late June. The unofficial announcement of the greatest player in the world came in the closing seconds of Wednesday night’s win in Cleveland.
LeBron James capped another Herculean performance with a pair of jaw-dropping plays – one on each end of the floor – that might have just saved his squad’s season, swatting Victor Oladipo’s game-winning attempt with 3.3 to play and drilling the game-winning triple at the buzzer, giving Cleveland the thrilling 98-95 win at The Q.
The Wine & Gold went cold down the stretch in the fourth quarter, going nearly the final seven minutes without a field goal and the final four minutes without a point before James’ game-winning bomb.
In that final flurry, the Pacers went on an 11-4 run to tie the game at 95 apiece with 33.6 remaining on Domantas Sabonis’ foul-line jumper.
On the Cavaliers’ next trip down the floor, LeBron lost the ball out of bounds on a drive, giving Indiana a shot to take the lead with 26.3 to play.
On the Pacers’ final possession, Oladipo worked his way past James at the top of the key and drove left to the hoop, but the four-time MVP had a bead on him and swatted his reverse attempt at the rim.
“[OIadipo] made a heck of a move – got me leaning right and he went left,” said James. “I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play for the ball, and I was able to make a play.”
After the Cavaliers called time out, James took the inbounds pass, dribbled to the top of the arc, planted and drilled the 25-footer – sending the sold-out crowd into a frenzy and drawing the Wine & Gold to within one victory of the conference semifinals.
”Just how we drew it up,” quipped Kevin Love. “We wanted to free up Bron as best we could. He had to make a read whether to go low or high and caught the ball. He seems to shoot that shot a lot in practice as well as many others, but going to his left and rising without a pump fake – he was in a good rhythm and hit an amazing shot. It was unbelievable.”
On the night, James – who’s now averaging just under 35 points per through the first five games of the first round – finished with 44 points, going 14-for-24 from the floor and a perfect 15-of-15 from the stripe. James went 1-for-4 from long range – but it was a big one – adding 10 boards, a game-high eight assists, a steal and one game-saving block in the final ticks. It was the 14th straight double-double for James against the Pacers.
After his best performance of the series on Sunday night in Indiana, Kyle Korver was in rhythm again in Game 5 – following up with 19 points in the victory, going 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, 6-of-11 from the floor overall, adding six boards and a steal.
”I thought we had a good third quarter, finally,” said Korver. “We’ve had leads going into the half the last few games, and third quarters have kind of been our Achilles’ heel, so it was good to come out motivated and playing hard in the third quarter. I thought guys responded well, and then at the end – what a special finish. It was amazing.”
Kevin Love was the only other Cavalier in double figures, notching his first double-double of the postseason despite struggling from the floor – finishing with 11 points and 10 boards, going 2-of-11 from the floor but a perfect 6-of-6 from the stripe.
On the night, the Wine & Gold were nearly perfect from the free-throw line – going 26-for-27. Cleveland shot 41 percent from the floor and 31 percent from long range. Indiana shot 48 percent from the floor and similarly struggled from 3-point range.
Domantas Sabonis had his second straight solid effort off Indiana’s bench – leading the Pacers with 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
Victor Oladipo doubled-up with 12 points and a team-high 12 boards, but the first-time All-Star was just 2-for-15 from the floor, including 1-for-7 from beyond the arc.
After going off against the Cavs in Game 1, Cleveland have held both Oladipo and Darren Collison completely in check. Over the last three games, Oladipo is shooting just 24 percent from the floor, 22 percent from deep. Excluding Game 2, Collison – who led the NBA in 3-point percentage this past season – is shooting 26 percent from the floor and has gone 2-for-12 from 3-point range.
Turning Point —The turning point of Wednesday’s win was the entire third quarter – a period that has vexed the Wine & Gold all season long – including each of the past three games of their first-round matchup with Indy.
In Games 2, 3 and 4, the Cavaliers averaged just 16.0 points in the third period – including the Game 3 collapse in which they relinquished a 17-point halftime lead.
But Cleveland were sharp on both ends in the third on Wednesday – erasing a seven-point halftime deficit in short order, turning the tables and eventually taking a 12-point lead with just two minutes to play in the quarter.
In the period, the Cavs would outscore the Pacers, 32-17, giving themselves just enough cushion to withstand Indy’s rally in the fourth.
After taking Wednesday’s thriller in Game 5 at The Q, the Cavaliers travel to Indiana on Friday night to try to put the Pacers away in six. If Indiana are able to ward off elimination, the series returns to Cleveland for Game 7 the following Sunday.