If we've learned anything from the Cavaliers first-round sweep of the Pacers, it's that NOTHING will come easy for the defending champions in this postseason.
And that's all right.
Because as LeBron James once put it, 'nothing is given, everything is earned.'
The Cavaliers moved on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals after another anxiety-filled finish, as they edged the Pacers, 106-102.
As usual, the four-time MVP James was right at the center of the Cavaliers success, finishing with 33 points and 10 rebounds. No points were bigger than his clutch three-point basket with 1:08 to go that put the Wine and Gold back in the lead for good.
"I got the switch off on Myles Turner, he just had to show me something where I could get a shot off," James explained afterwards. "Once he dropped his hands, I knew I had the shot. It was definitely a big play for our team."
Once again, the Cavaliers had made things difficult for themselves by blowing a double-digit lead, as they allowed Indiana to claw back from 13 down. "They were giving it all they had," LeBron explained. "Obviously, a loss would have ended their season. We just had to weather the storm once again."
The victory by the Cavaliers added more milestones to James' playoff credentials. From the Associated Press:
By winning his 21st consecutive first-round game, James broke a tie with Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and James Worthy for the longest streak under the NBA's current playoff format. By sweeping a series for the 10th time, James broke a tie with Tim Duncan for the most in a career, according to Elias Sports Bureau. By going 13 of 25 from the field, he pulled into a tie with Kobe Bryant for the fourth highest postseason field goal total with 2,014. And by holding on for the win, James improved to 52-0 in the playoffs when his team takes a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter.
LeBron reflected on the milestones afterwards: "Competition is very hard. You have to mentally challenge yourself every year and go out and try to do what's right -- putting your body on the line, putting your team on the line and trying to be successful," he said. "It's very hard."
But as the Cavaliers were wrapping up the sweep, I couldn't help but think back to November when Pacers Head Coach Nate McMillan was asked about LeBron (and other league stars) getting rest nights. LeBron and the Cavs took heat for the King sitting down 11 games into the season. McMillan told Bob Kravitz of WTHR TV, "A lot of things have changed in the NBA but we never talked about rest days or taking days off. Really, the only time you heard that conversation was late in the season when you had a playoff spot wrapped up, you might rest some guys, but not this early in the season."
Don't think that comments like that don't get back to James and fuel his fire a little. James played 45 of the game's 48 minutes on Sunday and said he could have gone all the way. "Every game, the coaches ask me how I’m doing. Today, I felt great. I could have played the whole game if need be. I played a lot of minutes in this series and I felt great," LeBron said.
As Jim Croce once sang, don't tug on Superman's cape.
The Cavaliers and James will now have more than a week to rest up for the Eastern Conference Semifinals, as they'll face either Toronto or Milwaukee for Game 1 on Monday, May 1 at the Q.
Let's close with this thing of beauty:
CHASEDOWN BLOCKS FOREVER pic.twitter.com/VzKNU8hUnx— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) April 23, 2017
We've all gotten accustomed to watching LeBron's chasedown block magic. Sunday's seemed to have a little extra on it as LeBron kept on running towards the tunnel at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. After the game, he invoked an Oscar-winning movie reference when Fox Sports Ohio's Allie Clifton asked him about the play: