INDIANA – LeBron James made a 3-pointer with 68 seconds left and the Cleveland Cavaliers hung on for a 106-102 series-clinching victory at the Indiana Pacers Sunday night.
James finished with 33 points and 10 rebounds as he became the first player under the current playoff format to win 21 straight first-round games. He also set a league record with his 10th career playoff sweep.
It sure wasn’t easy. After taking a 96-83 lead with 9:29 to go, the Cavs found themselves in a 102-100 deficit with 1:31 left.
But James answered with the go-ahead 3-pointer and Cleveland sealed the win on James’ free throw with 1 second left.
Lance Stephenson scored 22 points and Paul George added 15 but missed a 3-pointer that could have forced overtime in the closing seconds. It’s the first time the Pacers have lost a series 4-0 in their NBA history.
Kyrie Irving added 28 points for the Cavs, who await the winner of the Bucks-Raptors series.
Indiana got back into the game with a 7-0 spurt early in the in the fourth, then methodically continued chipping away at the lead until Thaddeus Young tied the score at 100 with a short jumper and broke the tie on a tip-in with 1:31 left.
But James, whose teams were 51-0 when starting the fourth quarter with double-digit leads in the postseason, made sure the perfect record remained intact.
Cleveland has won seven straight playoff games overall and 11 straight in the first round since James returned to his hometown team.
In Chicago, Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and Boston Celtics beat hosts Chicago Bulls 104-94 to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.
Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.
Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favour in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists.
In Oklahoma, Nene scored 28 points on perfect shooting from the field, and visiting Houston Rockets beat Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round series.
Nene made all 12 of his shots and had 10 rebounds. He helped the Rockets overcome an off night by James Harden, who finished with 16 points on five-for-16 shooting.
Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each scored 18 points for the Rockets. Trevor Ariza had 14.
Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime and finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. The Thunder said Westbrook joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to claim three consecutive playoff triple-doubles.
In Utah, Joe Johnson scored 28 points, and hosts Utah Jazz beat Los Angeles Clippers 105-98 to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.
Johnson, who hit the winning shot in Game 1, scored 11 straight Jazz points during a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter, including a pull-up jumper for a 91-90 lead with 3:55 remaining after trailing by seven early in the period. The Clippers never led again after controlling the game for most of the night.
Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles also hit huge baskets for Utah down the stretch. The Jazz needed all the help they could get after Gordon Hayward left with food poisoning.
The series returns to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Tuesday night.