LOS ANGELES: LeBron James scored 33 points and made key plays late Sunday (Monday in Manila) to give the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers a 106-102 victory at Indiana and a sweep of their playoff series.
The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 4-0 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round matchup and will next face the winner between the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.
“Once again, we just had to weather the storm,” said James. “We beat a very good team.”
In the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets got a huge boost from their bench to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 and seize a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.
Over in the Eastern Conference, Isaiah Thomas is playing with a heavy heart due to the recent death of his sister but he still managed to score 33 points as the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95.
James sank a 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 103-102 edge, made a steal, then missed another 3-point shot, but Kyrie Irving grabbed the rebound and Kyle Korver was fouled, hitting two free throws to stretch the Cavaliers lead to 105-102.
In the dying seconds, Indiana’s Paul George missed a 3-pointer and James grabbed the rebound. Fouled with one second remaining, he sank a free throw to create the final margin.
At Oklahoma City, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams scored 18 points each and Nene delivered a team-high 28 as the Rockets now have a chance to close out the series Tuesday at home.
Houston won despite an off night from superstar James Harden, who missed seven three-point attempts in a row and shot only 5-of-16 overall from the floor.
It is a different story for the Thunder. They appear to be unable to score if Russell Westbrook sits on the bench or hits a dry scoring patch.
With Westbrook on the bench Sunday, Oklahoma City was outscored 13-4 in a stretch that lasted from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth.
Westbrook bristled when reporters pointed this out.
“I don’t want to hear that. We’re in this together. We play as a team. That’s all that matters,” he said. “I don’t want nobody to try and split us up. We’re all one team.”
Westbrook, who gets more touches per game than almost any other NBA player and often carries the Thunder on his back, finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists.
Westbrook had another poor shooting second half on Sunday, making only 5-of-17 from the floor in the final two quarters. In a game-two loss, he misfired on 14-of-18 shots in the fourth quarter.
Westbrook had a triple-double in the first half, making him just the second player in NBA history with three consecutive playoff triple-doubles. Wilt Chamberlain did it in four consecutive games in 1967.
In Chicago, Thomas led the charge as Boston levelled their series with a Bulls at 2-2. The Celtics have now won two games in a row after falling behind in the series with back-to-back home losses.
The best-of-seven series resumes Wednesday.
It has been eight days since Thomas’s sister was killed in a single vehicle car crash.
“What he’s been through in the day-to-day is unfathomable the way he has performed on the court,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s been really incredible.”
Gerald Green scored a playoff-career-high 18 points, and Al Horford finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics, who blew a 20-point lead but managed to bounce back.
Jae Crowder finished with 11 points for the Celtics.
Jimmy Butler had 33 points and nine assists for the Bulls.
In Salt Lake City, Rudy Gobert returned from injury to deliver 15 points and 13 rebounds as the Utah Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-98.
Joe Johnson also scored 26 points to help Utah even the series at 2-2.