Cavaliers 99, Pacers 88
James scored 26 points—his lowest total in 11 games—but the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fifth straight, 99-88 over Indiana on Sunday night, the wilting Pacers’ ninth straight loss.
Larry Hughes added 23 points and Drew Gooden 19 for the Cavaliers, who let the Pacers trim a 23-point, fourth-quarter deficit to nine before putting them away to continue their push to catch first-place Detroit in the Central Division.
“We just came in, took care of business and got it over with,” James said.
However, the mostly lopsided game ended on an awkward note.
With the Cavaliers one point shy of 100, a mark that gives Cleveland fans a free giveaway chalupa from Taco Bell, forward Anderson Varejao launched a 3-pointer just before the final horn.
Varejao’s shot wasn’t close but it irked Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, who stood at his bench and glared at Cleveland’s mop-haired forward.
“I wasn’t happy either,” James said. “We’re not that type of team and he (Varejao) knows not to do that again, it’s as simple as that. He has to learn from that. You never want to do that. We’re up 11 points and you never want to show off. He definitely made a mistake and he learned from it.”
Pacers guard Orien Greene said the Pacers didn’t appreciate Varejao’s last-second fling.
“You’re not supposed to do that,” he said. “Everyone knows it and it upset us, but we’re more upset about the loss and the losing streak than that.”
Varejao was not available for comment.
James, who has been on a scoring binge since before the All-Star break, had scored at least 32 points in his previous six games. A 10-of-22 shooting performance prevented him from getting at least 29 points for the first time since Feb. 14.
James added seven rebounds and six assists for the Cavs, who were coasting to an easy win until a fourth-quarter funk.
Mike Dunleavy scored a season-high 25 points for the Pacers, whose skid is their longest since 1988-89. Danny Granger added 17 points and Ike Diogu 16 for Indiana, which couldn’t dig out of a 31-18 hole after one quarter.
“We’re in a position right now where we can’t have letups,” Carlisle said. “Even when shots aren’t going in, our disposition has to be strong and intense. In the first half, we had too many lapses.”
The Pacers were without leading scorer Jermaine O’Neal, who missed his second straight game with a strained left knee.
Starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley returned to Indiana’s lineup after serving a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. He had four points in 30 minutes.
Tinsley’s suspension was the latest bit of turmoil for the Pacers, who in addition to losing games have also had to deal with off-the-court issues.
“It’s real low,” Granger said of the Pacers’ slide. “Not since I’ve been playing basketball have I had a losing streak like this. Sooner or later, we’ve got to come out of it.”
James went to the bench with 9:12 left and the Cavaliers leading 84-63. He pulled on his warmup top and appeared headed for an easy night, but when the Pacers closed within 87-74, Cleveland coach Mike Brown sent his superstar back in.
The Pacers pulled to 89-79, but James got a tip-in and Cleveland closed it out at the foul line in the final minutes.
The Cavaliers seemed intent on ending this one quickly.
They opened 9-of-13 from the field and led by 13 after the first quarter, which featured a nasty putback dunk by James. He blasted down the lane, perfectly timed his jump to grab a rebound with his right hand and slammed it in.
Cleveland toyed with Indiana, which lost to Philadelphia on Saturday, in the second quarter, opening a 21-point lead.
“We wanted to set the tone,” Gooden said. “We knew they were coming off a back-to-back. We attacked.”
James’ best moment came when he streaked toward the basket, caught a pass on the run and delivered a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Zydrunas Ilgauskas to give the Cavaliers a 54-37 lead.
One more win—the Cavs host Sacramento on Tuesday—will give the Cavs their longest winning streak this season. They’ve had three five-game streaks. … James said he has not yet spoken to good friends Romeo Travis and Dru Joyce, his former high school teammates who were denied a trip to the NCAA tournament when Akron was beaten in the Mid-American Conference tournament on a last-second shot by Miami of Ohio. “Hopefully those guys will be able to look at the success they had the last four years and get over it,” he said. … Carlisle isn’t certain when O’Neal, who did not travel with the team, will be back in action.