For the entire second half of the season, there have been red flags about this Cleveland Cavaliers team. The defense ranked 29th in the league after the All-Star break, the team's lack of depth and size in the rotation was glaring, and it continued to suffer inexplicable breakdowns in the final week of the regular season. Lue explained the lapses in late March as a strategy: "We can't show our hand early because ... there are some good teams and we don't want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do."
The Cavs have not fixed their defense in the playoffs. They're still walking a tight rope of relying on their offense. But Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday was another reminder: Cleveland has LeBron, and that alone can be the difference.
In Game 1, the Cavs allowed the Pacers to score 59 points in the first half, and went to the final possession before pulling out a 109-108 win. It was more of the same in Game 2, as Indiana stormed back with a 33-point fourth quarter but came up short, losing 117-111. With the series shifting back to Indiana on Thursday, the Pacers appeared to break through. They scored 37 points in the first quarter, and replicated that with a 37-point second quarter. They led by 10 after one, 25 at the half. Their largest lead was 26 points.
And yet, it didn't matter. The Cavs have done this before. They're the masters of authoring playoff comebacks after last season's Finals masterpiece. LeBron has certainly done this before. He hasn't just dominated the East, LeBron has not lost a first round playoff game since the 2012 season, when the Heat needed five games to advance past the Knicks in the first round. The last first round game LeBron lost, Baron Davis was a starter. Udonis Haslem played meaningful minutes.
Down 26 points on Wednesday, LeBron authored another signature performance, scoring 41 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out 12 assists. He passed Kobe Bryant on the NBA's all-time playoff scoring list. The Cavs kept coming in the second half. They cut the lead to seven after three. They came all the way back in the fourth, and after a LeBron layup with five minutes left, they never trailed again, winning 119-114 and taking a 3-0 lead over the Pacers. In the second half alone, LeBron had 26 points, five rebounds and seven assists. The 26-point deficit tied for the largest playoff comeback in league history.
This is what LeBron's teams do. They're encircled by controversy during the regular season. The drama follows them in the postseason. But LeBron has always separated his teams from the rest of the pack with his individual brilliance. His Game 3 performance against Indiana will probably not even make it to the first three pages of his career resume. This is round one. This is not where LeBron has felt a stressful situation in almost half a decade. This is not where LeBron has gone up against the caliber of teams that can challenge him. But Wednesday was a reminder. The Cavs have plenty of things they need to clean up. But they still have LeBron. End of story.