By Harry Allison
Kyrie Irving scored 37 points, Kevin Love added 27, and LeBron James had 25 as the Cavaliers avoided a fourth-quarter collapse, beating the Indiana Pacers, 117-111, last night in Cleveland to take a 2-0 lead in their playoff series.
After giving up a late lead and squeaking out the opener by just a point, the Cavaliers showed more intensity on defense and more swagger in general, holding on to win their 10th straight first-round game over the past three seasons.
However, the Cavaliers, following a pattern that began late in the regular season, nearly gave away an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter as the Pacers cut the gap to 4 in the final minute before Cleveland closed out the game at the foul line.
Still, James came away encouraged. The Cavaliers are finding their groove.
“We’re right there,” he said. “We’re really close to what we can become.”
James added 10 rebounds and seven assists while winning his 19th straight game in the first round. He did have eight of Cleveland’s 19 turnovers, though, miscues that allowed the Pacers to hang around.
Game 3 is set for Thursday night in Indianapolis.
Paul George scored 32 points and Jeff Teague 23 for Indiana, which showed more fight but now has a steep hill to climb to get back into the series. Cleveland is 12-0 when starting 2-0 in the postseason.
Teague injured his right wrist in the second half, and Coach Nate McMillan said he would have X-rays.
The Cavaliers vowed they would play better after their near disaster in Game 1, and they mostly backed up their talk, delivering the kind of performance that was routine last season but has been rare in 2017.
In the third quarter, Cleveland took advantage of a mismatch underneath and pounded the ball inside to Love, who scored 10 straight points and drew a charging foul on Lance Stephenson in a span of two minutes as the Cavaliers opened an 89-70 lead.
Irving closed the period by hitting a 3-pointer over Stephenson, and he made sure Stephenson knew about it, yapping in his direction long after the horn had sounded.
“I thought we lost our composure and got frantic out there,” McMillan said of his team’s third-quarter meltdown. “We lost our poise, and wasn’t calm during that third quarter. And that was big.”
The Pacers regrouped, scored 13 straight points and trimmed their deficit to 113-109 when George hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left.
Now they are heading home in a hole they still believe they can climb out of.
“We know what’s at stake,” C. J. Miles said. “We’re going to go out there, keep trying to give them hell, keep competing, and we’ll get ourselves a win.”
Kawhi Leonard had a postseason career-high 37 points and added 11 rebounds as the Spurs beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 96-82, in San Antonio to take a 2-0 lead in their first-round series.
San Antonio led for all but 13 seconds while winning its 10th consecutive postseason game over Memphis. Game 3 is Thursday night in Memphis.
Leonard finished 9 for 14 from the field and was 19 for 19 on free throws. Tony Parker added 15 points for the Spurs.
Mike Conley scored 24 points, Zach Randolph had 18 points and Marc Gasol added 12 points for the Grizzlies.
San Antonio had a 26-point lead in the first half on the strength of its outside shooting. Memphis closed within 75-71 early in the fourth quarter, but San Antonio responded with 3-pointers by Parker and Pau Gasol to rebuild its double-digit lead.