Pac­ers send Cavs to third straight loss


INDIANAPOLIS — When In­di­ana Pac­ers coach Nate McMil­lan went small Fri­day, Lance Stephen­son came up big.

He baited LeBron James into a late tech­ni­cal foul. He made play af­ter play down the stretch and when the game was over the Pac­ers’ show­man was cel­e­brat­ing.

Stephen­son had 16 points and 11 re­bounds to help In­di­ana erase a 22point, first-half deficit and beat Cleve­land 97-95. It’s the Pac­ers’ third win this sea­son over the three­time de­fend­ing East­ern Con­fer­ence champs.

“It feels good, but it’s a long sea­son,” Stephen­son said. “They’re a tough team but we came out and played smart de­fense and made the right plays.”

It was a stun­ning twist, com­ing al­most ex­actly nine months af­ter the Cavs ral­lied from a 26-point deficit on the same court to beat In­di­ana in the play­offs.

This time, the Pac­ers handed Cleve­land a third straight con­found­ing loss. The first two came by a com­bined 62 points and on Fri­day the Cavs were outscored 84-61 over the fi­nal three quar­ters on the sec­ond night of back-to-back road games.

Stephen­son had plenty of help. Dar­ren Col­li­son scored 22 points and Vic­tor Oladipo had 19.

But the guy with a knack for get­ting in­side op­po­nents’ heads with un­think­able stunts, like blow­ing in James’ ear or giv­ing him a thumb in the side — as tele­vi­sion re­plays showed dur­ing the game — played the in­sti­ga­tor per­fectly.

James had 27 points, 11 as­sists, eight re­bounds and was called for a tech­ni­cal foul af­ter re­act­ing to Stephen­son’s jab by shov­ing him in the chest. Oladipo made the free throw to give In­di­ana an 84-82 lead with 7:53 to go.

The four-time MVP wasn’t amused.

“Lance is just a lit­tle dirty, that’s all. He’s a lit­tle dirty,” James said. “I should have known, I’ve known since school, it’s not the guy who tells the joke that gets caught it’s the guy who laughs. They caught me on the re­tal­i­a­tion. He played well, though.”

Stephen­son en­tered the game with 5:52 left in the third quar­ter when 6-foot-11 cen­ter Do­man­tas Sabo­nis picked up his fourth foul. McMil­lan let him play the rest of the way.

The re­sult: In­di­ana, which trailed 26-6 about eight min­utes into the game and still trailed 72-60 with 5:23 left in the third, ral­lied. In­di­ana shut out the Cavs over the fi­nal 3:57.

Oladipo’s 3 with 2:10 left gave In­di­ana the lead for good.

James then had two chances to give Cleve­land the lead in the fi­nal 2 sec­onds. First, a switch by Col­li­son forced James out of bounds on a base­line drive 1.7 sec­onds to go.

Then, James’ des­per­a­tion 3 bounced high off the rim.

“It’s hard to get into his head, but tonight was (dif­fer­ent),” Stephen­son said. “Just play­ing against the best player in the league, try­ing to win against them. There are a lot of fans com­ing out to sup­port him, so I just try to get his fans mad, too.”

AP photo

The Cava­liers’ LeBron James talks with coach Ty­ronn Lue dur­ing the sec­ond half of Cleve­land’s 97-95 loss to In­di­ana on Fri­day.

AP photo

The Pac­ers’ Lance Stephen­son re­acts af­ter hit­ting a 3pointer dur­ing the sec­ond half Fri­day.

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