Cavaliers’ comeback crushes Pacers’ spirits

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James celebrates a basket against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Indianapolis. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 119-114. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Who is to blame for the Pacers’ NBA-record-tying second-half collapse against the Cavaliers?

The story:

The Indiana Pacers had the Cleveland Cavaliers knocked to the floor, having played their best 24 minutes of basketball in quite some time. Lance Stephenson was knocking down 3-pointers and turning to the crowd, yelling “This is my f—ing house!” Paul George had LeBron James shaking his head going down the court after the Pacers’ All-Star knocked down another basket during his 21-point second quarter. It was the start the Pacers needed to make this somewhat of an interesting series again, leading by 25 points at halftime on Thursday night. All they had to do was come out at the start of the second half against the Cavaliers and “put their foot on their throat.” But as has been the case way too often during their roller-coaster of a season, the Pacers failed to seize the opportunity that was right there for them. They instead crumbled at the hands of James in a 119-114 loss to fall behind 3-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series. The 25-point margin was the largest blown halftime lead in NBA playoff history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Lance Stephenson:

“They’re playing through all our punches, and we’re throwing haymakers, and they’re weaving,” Stephenson said. “That’s how it feels.”

Pacers Coach Nate McMillan:

“We’ve been in this situation before where it’s a test of your character and who shows up,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “We’re going into that game not to give them a ‘W’ on Sunday. We’re going in there and trying to extend this and it will show if you’re not playing with that mindset. I expect us to play with that mindset.”

The comeback:

The cold hard truth:

Too soon?:

LeBron was en fuego:

Behind LeBron’s brilliant 41-point, 13-rebound, 12-assist night, the Cavaliers were able to craft a comeback for the ages in the Game 3 win, roaring all the way back from a 72-46 deficit to a 119-114 victory. James even did his best work without ineffective teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love down the stretch, as Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with a cast of aging reserves to surround James in the fourth quarter of the 119-114 conquest. … James only sat for a five-second blow over the final three quarters of the game. Save for a series of missed free throws, it hardly showed.

LeBron’s highlights:

Kyrie Irving:

“He still amazes me,” Irving said of James. “The question is, can he ever amaze you guys [in the media]? Every time he does something amazing, he’s always compared to someone else, other performances. But tonight that was unbelievable, down 25, tied for the biggest playoff comeback right there. Another historic win for the Cavs organization. He does unbelievable things. I’m always very excited and always happy, especially when he leads us to a win like that. I mean a 40-point triple-double and the win, we’ll take it.”

Cavs Coach Tyronn Lue:

“Every decision you make in the playoffs is difficult,” Lue said. “Looking at Kyrie and looking at Kevin, they were like, ‘Let them go. They’re playing well.’ I had every intention to keep those guys in as long as they were playing well. Kevin and Kyrie didn’t [protest]. That’s what playoff basketball is all about. Guys step up and play well, and you just root those guys on.”

Paul George was great, but:

Paul George led the Pacers with 36 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. He missed 18 of 28 shots in the loss, though, and was neither able to get in James’ way defensively nor make Cleveland sweat with clutch play of his own.

Yep:

The voice of reason:

What do you think? Who is to blame for the collapse?

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