(The Sports Xchange) – When the Cleveland Cavaliers limped into the NBA playoffs with a four-game losing streak to finish the regular season, some wondered if the reigning champions were vulnerable.
LeBron James, at least for one series, removed all doubts.
James scored 33 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:08 remaining, and Cleveland defeated the Indiana Pacers 106-102 on Sunday afternoon, completing a four-game sweep in the opening-round series.
“Once again, we just had to weather the storm,” said James, who made 13 of 25 field-goal attempts and added 10 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks. “We beat a very good team. We had to make plays at the end, and we did.”
Cleveland’s four victories came by an average of four points, tying the smallest average margin of victory in a four-game series sweep, also set in the 1975 NBA Finals when the Golden State Warriors defeated the then-Washington Bullets.
The Cavaliers also finished — regular season and playoffs — 7-1 against Indiana, winning the last seven in a row, although this one certainly wasn’t easy.
“Offensively, we were not that good,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “We didn’t play with the same spunk and pace. But defensively, I thought we were really good. We did a great job on Paul George. We kept him to 15 points.”
Indiana, which never had been swept in a best-of-seven series, took a 102-100 lead on a Thaddeus Young tip-in with 1:31 to play, but the Cavaliers scored the game’s final six points to advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference.
For James, it was his 21st consecutive first-round playoff game victory, breaking Magic Johnson’s record of 20 set in the mid-1980s.
“It’s really frustrating to continue losing to the same team or the same person (James),” George said.
“It’s what I work hard for in the summers to try to help lead a team along and ultimately, it’s who I am always going to see and face. But again, we just came up short and didn’t do enough.”
When asked if he hopes to remain with the Pacers, George, whose future has been discussed frequently in Indiana, said: “I ain’t even at that point yet. Next question.”
(Editing by Andrew Both)