LeBron James was not going to fall into an 0-2 hole.
There have been games in James’ spectacular career in which he has willed his team to victory and shown the type of body language that makes it clear he’s not losing on that day.
Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers was one of those moments.
After falling behind in the opening round for the first time in his career – and suffering his first round one loss since 2012 – James responded by dominating with a 46-point effort to even series.
He scored the game’s first 16 points and had 29 at halftime – the second-most points he’s scored in a playoff half, behind only his monster performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics in 2012.
LeBron James gets his 20th career 40-point game in the postseason, tying Jerry West for 2nd-most in NBA history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 19, 2018
Michael Jordan leads the way with 38 such postseason games
h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/6sON8dLjIX
Despite James’ individual brilliance, however, only three points separated the Cavaliers and Pacers when the final buzzer sounded on the 100-97 result.
So while Game 2 proved James is still as impactful of a singular force as there is in basketball, it also showed that LeBron may have to do it all if Cleveland are to go far in the playoffs.
Tyronn Lue’s switch to put Kyle Korver in the starting lineup paid off as the sharpshooter contributed 12 points by hitting 4-of-8 from deep, but aside from him and Kevin Love – who had an inefficient 15 points on 16 shots and suffered a thumb injury – James received little help.
Indiana could have just as well left Cleveland with a 2-0 lead, but they didn’t help their own cause by finishing 6-of-22 from long range, committing 17 turnovers – leading to 18 Cavaliers’ points – and sitting Victor Oladipo too long after he picked up two early fouls.
Oladipo ended up playing only 28 minutes, scoring 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting, but the Pacers were plus-11 with him in the lineup. When he was sitting, Indiana were outscored by 14 points and saw their net rating drastically drop from 14.3 to minus-35.2.
The All-Star also had a clean look at a potential tying 3-pointer with 27.5 seconds left, but missed the mark as Cleveland survived.
Even against James, the Pacers have been the better team when their best player has been on the court. They can take solace in that as the series shifts to Indiana for Game 3 and 4.
So while LeBron’s heroics may be needed regularly going forward, they also might not guarantee anything for the Cavaliers.
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