FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) shoots in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis. Fierce rivals on the floor, LeBron James and Paul George have become good friends outside the arena. They share a mutual respect that will be on display when Cleveland and Indiana match up in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs starting Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Monday, April 17, 2017

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Perennial rivals Paul George (13) of the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James wrestle for the ball during Game 1 of their playoffs showdown on Saturday. AP


CLEVELAND – Their regular-season issues followed the Cavaliers into the playoffs. They didn’t win their postseason opener as much as survive it. The champions remain puzzling.

LeBron James scored 32 points as Cleveland, looking to flip a switch after a shaky-and-streaky regular season, began the postseason by escaping with a 109-108 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

CJ Miles could have won it for Indiana, but a player whom Cleveland’s players and coaches call a “Cavs killer” missed a 14-foot jumper just before the horn.

Following the game, Miles sat silently at his locker in full uniform for 30 minutes before Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, came in and patted him on the shoulder.

James, however, refused to acknowledge how different things would be if Miles’ shot had dropped.

“He missed,” James said. “We won.”

Playing in his 200th playoff game, James added 13 assists and six rebounds while winning his 18th consecutive first-round game.

However, it was anything but easy as the Cavs, who had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, had to withstand a strong comeback by the Pacers.

After a foul, Indiana inbounded with 10 seconds left and tried to run a play for star Paul George. But James came over to help J.R. Smith and double-teamed George, who was forced to pass to Miles. His jumper was on line, but short and the Cavs avoided a disastrous loss.

George was adamant that he should have gotten the ball back.

“I talked to CJ about it,” George said. “In situations like that, I gotta get the last shot. CJ took it upon himself. I’m confident with all of my guys taking shots. That’s not the issue. In that situation, I need the ball.”

Miles didn’t make any excuses.

“Obviously, we wanted to get the ball to Paul to be able to get the shot to win the game,” he said. “I got the ball at four (seconds), so I had to take it myself. I got a good shot. I just didn’t make it.”

James said the Cavs’ plan on the final play was not to let George beat them.

“We wanted to get the ball out of his hands, make somebody else try to beat us and live with the results,” he said. (AP)


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