LeBron James, once again, was brilliant. The third quarter, once again, was problematic. And the Pacers, once again, played with no sense of fear for the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions.
What was different for the Cavs — and the reason they are heading back to Cleveland with the series tied 2-2 — is that a cadre of Cavs role players stepped up with their best performances yet of the 2018 playoffs.
Yes, James’ 32 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists were the biggest determining factors in Cleveland’s 104-100 Game 4 win, but it was Kyle Korver‘s 18 points (including two clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter), JR Smith‘s 12 points (including an amazing 61-foot buzzer-beater to finish the first quarter) and Jordan Clarkson‘s 12 points off the bench (including going 5-for-5 in the first half) that pushed the Cavs over the top.
After dropping Game 1 on their home court, the Cavs have now won two of the past three games against Indiana, and if it wasn’t for blowing a 17-point halftime lead in Game 3, the series would be 3-1 in their favor.
Heading into the postseason, James warned this was a balanced Indiana team that the Cavs were getting tangled up with. He said that the razor-thin margin between the two teams — Cleveland the No. 4 seed, Indiana the No. 5 — wasn’t an accident.
The Cavs certainly aren’t out of the woods yet. George Hill missed Game 4 because of back spasms, and while Jose Calderon filled in amiably Sunday with five points on 2-for-4 shooting, two rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes, missing a starter always sends a ripple effect through a rotation.
Then there’s a hungry Indiana team to contend with. The Pacers put all five starters in double digits in Game 4, and seven players total. Even though All-Star Victor Oladipo had another tough shooting night (17 points on 5-for-20 from the floor), Indiana was in it until the very end with big contributions from the likes of Domantas Sabonis (19 points on 9-for-12 shooting) and Myles Turner (17 points on 7-for-9).
As off as Oladipo was, the Cavs survived an even worse night from Kevin Love. He scored just five points on 2-for-10 shooting as he picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of the game and only continued to struggle from there.
As if the series — now reduced to a best-of-three — wasn’t must-see TV already, The Lance Stephenson Show reached a crescendo on Sunday with several standoffs with James and a tackle of Jeff Green that only escalated the growing animosity between the two teams.