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NBA playoffs: LeBron James scores 45 in Game 7 to help Cavaliers advance

LeBron James scored 45 points and got some needed help in Game 7 to stay unbeaten in the opening round of the NBA playoffs, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 105-101 win over the Indiana Pacers, who pushed the game's best player to the limit.

James improved to 13-0 in the first round and kept Cleveland's strange season alive — for the time being. It took everything James and the Cavaliers had to hold off the Pacers, who were swept by Cleveland a year ago and came in confident after a 34-point win in Game 6.

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The Cavaliers will open the conference semifinals on Tuesday at top-seeded Toronto.

James played 43 minutes, leaving late in the third quarter and heading straight to the locker room to be treated for cramps. The 33-year-old was going to leave it all on the floor in what some Cleveland fans feared could have been his last game with the franchise.

Tristan Thompson made a rare start for the Cavaliers — Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue used his 34th different starting lineup this season — and added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Kevin Love made four 3-pointers, and George Hill returned after missing three games with back spasms to score 11 in 19 second-half minutes.

Victor Oladipo scored 30 and Darren Collison had 23 for the Pacers, who were still within four points in the final minute before a cutting James scored on a bullet pass from Kyle Korver with 30 seconds left.

Oladipo hit a three at the horn and was immediately embraced by James, who had never played a Game 7 in the first round and wasn't about to let Indiana end his run toward an eighth straight Finals.

It was the first Game 7 in Quicken Loans Arena history, and Cleveland fans were on edge from the start.

A loss would not only have ended the Cavaliers' season earlier than expected and their reign as three-time conference champions, but would have pushed James closer to free agency. He's expected to opt out of his contract in July to test the market, and there's already a line of teams stretching from Philadelphia to Los Angeles looking to sign the three-time champion.

After the Cavaliers were rocked in Game 6 at Indianapolis, Lue knew he needed to shake things up.

So he switched his starting lineup for the fourth time in the series, going with James, Korver, Thompson, Love and J.R. Smith. Thompson had played just 24 minutes in the first six games of the series and made his first start since March 28.

It was the first time Lue used the starting lineup all season, and in the season's biggest game, he went with the players he trusts most — James, Love, Smith and Thompson are the only holdovers from the three Finals teams.

Thompson made an immediate impact, scoring six points and seven rebounds, and behind James' 26 points, the Cavaliers built an 11-point halftime lead.

Rockets top Jazz 110-96 in opening game of playoff series

James Harden scored 41 points and the Houston Rockets raced out to a huge lead and sailed to a 110-96 win over the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday.

Houston was up by 25 at halftime behind 34 points combined from Harden and Chris Paul. The Jazz, who didn't wrap up their first-round series with Oklahoma City until late Friday night, looked sluggish and struggled to keep pace with the energy of the top-seeded Rockets, who haven't played since eliminating Minnesota on Wednesday.

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It was Houston's fourth straight win by 10 or more points this postseason, and the Rockets have won their five games against the Jazz by an average of 16.8 points.

Harden, who also had seven assists and eight rebounds, picked up where he left off in the regular season against the Jazz when he averaged 34.3 points, led by a 56-point performance in a 137-110 win in November that set a career-high he has since bested.

The Jazz got 21 points each from rookie Donovan Mitchell and Jae Crowder while playing without starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who sat with a strained left hamstring. It was a significant blow after he averaged 14 points, 7.3 rebounds and seven assists in the first round.

The Rockets had 10 3-pointers by halftime, led by three apiece from Harden and P.J. Tucker. They finished with 17, including seven from Harden.

The Rockets were up by 18 entering the fourth after Paul hit a 3-pointer at the end of the third. Utah scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to get within 86-75, but Harden made three free throws over the next minute to end the run.

Rudy Gobert, who had 11 points and nine rebounds, had a dunk after that, but a 3-pointer by Harden extended Houston's lead to 92-77 with about 8{ minutes left.

Mitchell was shaken up when Eric Gordon stepped on his ankle as he drove to the basket with about 5{ minutes remaining. He stayed on the court for a second holding his ankle before hopping up and walking gingerly to the bench. But remained on the bench for just a few seconds before returning.

Houston still had a 15-point lead later in the fourth when Gordon stole a pass from Royce O'Neal and Harden finished with a 3 to make it 103-85 with less than four minutes to go.

Both the Rockets and the fifth-seeded Jazz are in the semifinals for the second straight year. The Rockets, who beat the Timberwolves in five games to advance, lost to the Spurs last season, and Utah was eliminated by Golden State.

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