LeBron James didn’t let a nasty head cold stop him from two appointments — seeing his son perform at school and getting the Cavaliers into the playoffs.
James scored 29 points — 13 in the fourth quarter— and Cleveland edged the Indiana Pacers 95-92 on Friday night for its 15th consecutive victory at home.
As usual, James, who was feeling so ill that he stayed behind in the locker room at halftime, was at his best down the stretch. He scored 11 straight points in the fourth to give Cleveland a 93-92 lead. However, it was Cavs guard Iman Shumpert who came up with the biggest play, running down a long rebound before J.R. Smith knocked down two free throws with a second left.
With the win, the Cavaliers clinched a playoff spot — their first since 2010 before James left as a free agent for Miami.
“It feels amazing,” said All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who will take part in an NBA postseason for the first time. “It’s an awesome thing. I can’t wait for it.”
James was so sick that he skipped the Cavs’ morning shootaround so he could get some extra sleep. But while resting at home, he was late to see his youngest son, Bryce, read in front of his school. Fortunately, James made it to the play — “I had to be there” — and the Cavs were thrilled the four-time MVP dressed against the Pacers.
“LeBron does a lot of great things,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “One of those things is he came to play. He was sick and certainly could have made an excuse but did not. He wanted to play and we let him go.”
After Smith’s free throws, Indiana had one last chance, but C.J. Miles’ desperation 3-pointer was way off and Cleveland held on to win a game that had a playoff vibe from the start.
“Any time you play Indiana it’s like that,” said James, who has faced the Pacers many times in the playoffs. “Every possession counts and that was one of those types of games.”
Irving added 13 points for Cleveland and Kevin Love had 13 rebounds and scrapped underneath for a key rebound in the final minute. The Cavs are a league-best 26-6 since Jan. 15.
George Hill scored 24 points and Roy Hibbert had 20 for the Pacers, who dropped their fourth straight and damaged their playoff hopes.
Indiana had chances, but down the stretch the Pacers couldn’t stop James.
“We just got undone by one of the best players in the league,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “I thought we made most of (James’) shots really tough shots, but he made them anyway.”
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
Minnesota was blown out by Brooklyn, 122-106, as the Nets scored a franchise-record 78 points in the paint. “It’s men against boys right now,” Minnesota Coach Flip Saunders said after the loss. “They’ve got an All-Star in [Deron] Williams, an All-Star in Joe Johnson, and an All-Star in Brook Lopez, and those guys for the first three quarters pretty much dominated their respective positions.”
Sanders added: “It’s a man’s league. At some point you’re going to have to stand your ground. You’re going to have to learn how to play. If you get your butts kicked, sometimes that’s part of growing up.”
Losing is contagious
It’s bad enough that Denver has had a lousy season, but now that the team is resting players, it left Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler wondering how management thinks it can win games when players are sitting out. “It’s tough when you’re fighting together, but you’re getting set up for failure,” Chandler told the Denver Post.
After San Antonio blew a 13-point lead in the second half and lost to the lowly New York Knicks, San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich ripped his team. “It was a pathetic performance and I hope that every player is embarrassed.”