Cavaliers 105, Pacers 94
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—LeBron James led with words, then he led by example.
After kicking coach Mike Brown out of a team meeting Tuesday morning, James had 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Indiana Pacers 105-94 to clinch a playoff berth.
Cleveland had lost three of four after an eight-game winning streak, but pulled within 2 1/2 games of Detroit in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It was the opener of a five-game road trip for the Cavaliers, who won the season series with Indiana 3-1.
The Cavaliers came out focused after the meeting that James led on Tuesday.
“This is my team, that’s my responsibility to make sure everyone’s on course,” James said. “There can be a lot of distractions on a five-game road trip.”
Brown didn’t mind his star player becoming more vocal.
“We can help them and put them in spots, coach them, continue to show them where they’re wrong, where they’re right and so forth,” Brown said, “but really, when it gets down to it, they’re the ones on the floor playing. If you have a team that decides to take ownership of what they’re doing, then the sky’s the limit.”
Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 23 points for the Cavaliers, who shot 52 percent from the field. Cleveland outrebounded the Pacers 43-33 and outscored the Pacers 27-19 from the free throw line.
Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal did just about everything but scrub the floor at Conseco Fieldhouse the past two games, but the Pacers didn’t reward him with a win.
O’Neal scored 32 points, his second straight game with more than 30. He was coming off a 39-point game, the second-best scoring effort of his career, in a 92-90 loss to Chicago on Sunday. He followed it up Tuesday by shooting 11-for-18 from the field and 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
“He’s been a horse and a warrior,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s played through a lot and he had a mammoth game tonight.”
Still, the Pacers lost for the 15th time in 17 games and remained outside of the top eight slots in the Eastern Conference with 12 games to go. The Pacers now are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996-97.
Indiana plays at New Jersey on Wednesday and at Orlando on Friday, two of the teams the Pacers are competing with for the seventh and eighth spots in the East.
“We’ve got to fight it out,” O’Neal said. “We’re right there, so hopefully we can handle our business. If we have a hard time getting up for these games, we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.”
O’Neal tweaked his left ankle in the fourth quarter, which bothered his already sore knee. He missed three games earlier this month with a sprained left knee. He wasn’t focused on the pain after the game.
“I’m probably more hurt that we lost this game emotionally than anything physically,” he said.
Indiana trailed 75-72 at the end of the third quarter and cut its deficit to 79-78 on a jumper by Granger with 8:51 left.
Cleveland regrouped, and a three-point play by Eric Snow put the Cavaliers ahead 96-87 with 3:03 left. The Pacers never mounted another charge.
“It’s not really offensive part of the floor where we’re having problems, we’re having problems on the defensive end of the floor,” O’Neal said. “I think we cut it to one and we couldn’t get a stop.”
The Pacers shot 51 percent in the first half, yet trailed 52-45 because they allowed the Cavaliers to shoot 54 percent.
Cleveland extended its lead to 69-58 before James picked up his fourth foul and sat out the rest of the quarter. The Pacers outscored the Cavaliers 14-6 with James on the bench to cut their deficit to three at the end of the period.
The Cavaliers outscored the Pacers 30-22 in the fourth quarter. James played all 12 minutes and had eight points and six rebounds in the final period.
“We executed down the stretch,” Brown said. “We got enough stops defensively, but offensively, we made our shots.”
Indiana G Darrell Armstrong was called for a technical foul with 8:20 left in the second quarter after he disagreed with a three-second call. … Cleveland C Scot Pollard, a former Pacer, did not play. … The Pacers had no offensive rebounds in the first half. … Cleveland improved to 13-4 with G Sasha Pavlovic in the starting lineup. … Granger fouled out for the third time this season, and Indiana G Mike Dunleavy fouled out for the first time this season.