CLEVELAND (AP) – LeBron James with a sore leg was about as effective as LeBron James at full health.
James scored 29 points and made several key plays down the stretch Sunday, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Indiana Pacers 101-97 for their sixth straight win.
James took a knee to a leg Friday and said he would get round-the-clock treatment so he could play. Unfortunately for the Pacers, the treatment worked.
James hit seven free throws in the final few minutes and found Kevin Love for two key baskets in the final 27 seconds.
“I started off pretty well but I got hit again in the third quarter so it was really, really sore,” James said. “It’s pretty sore right now.”
Cavaliers coach David Blatt was impressed with James’ performance.
“Most guys probably wouldn’t have played with what he had, and he played, and you saw how he played,” Blatt said. “The guy is unbelievable. He really is. I don’t have a better word than that.”
“LeBron is the best player in the game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We all know that.”
Love scored 22 points and had 19 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who haven’t lost since the season opener against Chicago.
Paul George scored 32 points for Indiana, which went scoreless for nearly four minutes after taking a 90-88 lead. George’s 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining cut the lead to 97-95.
The Cavaliers broke full-court pressure and James hit Love for a dunk with 8.2 seconds left. George Hill scored with 6.7 seconds remaining, but James made two foul shots at the 5.3 mark.
James remained in Friday’s game after the injury and said he was hopeful he would play against the Pacers. He was 10 of 23 from field and came within two points of matching his season high, recorded Friday.
A third-quarter basket gave James 9,018 for his career, moving him past Jerry West into 19th place on the field goal list.
George, who scored a season-high 36 points Friday against Miami, had another outstanding game, making 11 of 21 from the field and grabbing 11 rebounds. Despite the loss, George sees no reason to back down against Cleveland.
“I think we match up well against this team,” he said. “This team doesn’t really scare us. They had to play a full game against us. It’s on us to get where we want to get to. It’s all about who gets the last laugh when we’re in the NBA Finals or playing against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals or whoever.”
Joey Crawford, one of the game’s three officials, left the court in the third quarter with an injured right knee and didn’t return.
George, who missed most of last season with a broken leg, has been guarding opposing power forwards, but was shifted to the small forward slot to defend James. “Everyone can see that Paul is healthy and looks fantastic, so this is a great chance to play against the best player in the world,” Vogel said.
After a lackluster first half Friday against Philadelphia, James Jones had some fiery words for his teammates at halftime. James spoke Sunday. He wanted Love more involved in the second half.
“Egos need to be checked at the door and you have to be able to handle constructive criticism,” James said. “We’re here for one common goal and that’s to get better every day to put ourselves in a position to compete for a championship.”
“Just that he wanted to get me going,” Love said. “That was it. You guys know, it’s no secret, we’ve had a lot of conversations over the past, not only year, but leading up into this season. He’s a guy that’s a leader. When he speaks up, we listen and follow his lead. That’s a big help for me and the rest of the team.”
Pacers: C.J. Miles (sore right ankle) sat out his third straight contest, but coach Frank Vogel is optimistic that he will return Monday against Orlando. . Rodney Stuckey (sprained right ankle) didn’t travel with the team after leaving Friday’s game with the injury. … Indiana played its 3,900th game in franchise history.
Cavaliers: J.R. Smith (right knee, quad) missed his third straight game. He took shots on the court in warmups and could return Tuesday. … Richard Jefferson started at shooting guard and scored five after Jared Cunningham got the start Friday.
Pacers: Host Orlando on Monday.
Cavaliers: Host Utah on Tuesday.
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