INDIANAPOLIS — One of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history occurred with LeBron James on the court for every single minute of the second half with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love not seeing a second of playing time in the fourth quarter on Thursday.
James finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists and two blocks as he logged his 17th triple-double of his postseason career. He scored or assisted on 73 points, the most in a playoff game of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Irving had a front-row seat to watch it unfold and sounded like he was more filled by wonderment than wistfulness after he was benched to end the game.
“He still amazes me,” Irving said of James. “The question is can he ever amaze you guys [in the media]? Every time 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 approached Irving and Love in the fourth quarter in the midst of playing Deron Williams the entire period at point guard and Channing Frye nearly the entire period, save 51 seconds, as a stretch big man.
“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. Channing was great, Kyle [Korver] was great, D-Will was great, Shump [Iman Shumpert] was great. Overall it was a great team win for us. First thing Kevin and Kyrie said was, ‘Man let them go.’ After the game they was happy and said, ‘It’s not about us, it’s about the team.’ Not a big deal at all, especially when you come out with the win.”
Irving said he was “going crazy on the bench” cheering his teammates down the stretch. Love said the entire team was lifted by the 30 points scored by Cleveland’s reserves.
“Great for us,” Love said. “Great for us. Ty Lue looked at both of us and asked us if we were prepared and ready, and I shook my head yes. But that team was rolling, man. That was a hell of an effort by those guys and it can do so much for us and our confidence. So many guys hit big shots and made big plays on both ends of the floor. You have to tip your hat to them. It was an incredible performance and just goes to show you why we love our teammates.”
James was asked if he can reflect on how the win and all that went into it ranks among the more remarkable postseason performances of his career — that Game 5 in Detroit, that Game 6 in Boston, those Games 5-7 of last year’s NBA Finals against Golden State.
“I can’t even sit up here and say I can,” James said. “One thing I do know is that we had a huge halftime deficit and were able to come back and win the game. I didn’t know it was the biggest comeback or things of that nature. For myself, I just try to put myself in position to help my teammates win no matter who’s on the floor with me. Try to empower them, try to make them better, try to make them believe we can be great every night.
“No matter who’s on the floor with me and, for myself, I just don’t settle for being not as great as I can be. It’s not going to result in a stat line like this every night. When my mind is fresh and in the moment, sometimes certain things like this happen, so I don’t know. I can’t even really appreciate it. I’ll let you guys write your words about it and go from there. Only thing that matters is a win, and that’s what I’m here for.”
A game after the Cavs’ Big Three combined for 89 points — the most they’d ever put up together in a playoff game — James did most of the damage solo as Love and Irving scored just 26 points on 8-for-29 shooting combined in Game 3.
“He just willed his team and said, ‘I’ll put you guys on my back, going to make every play, make the right play,’ ” Lue said of James, who scored 13 in the third quarter to cut the Pacers lead from 25 to seven and another 15 in the fourth to turn the seven-point deficit into a five-point win.
“LeBron willed us home, 41, 12 and 13, played the whole second half,” Lue said. “That’s what playoff basketball is all about. You got to be willing to sacrifice and lay it on the line to win a game, and that’s what he did for us.”