CLEVELAND (AP) — The playoffs are nearing. The Cavaliers are already feeling the pressure.
LeBron James made a big 3-pointer in the final minute of the second overtime and scored 41 points to offset 43 by Indiana’s Paul George, and Cleveland opened its April schedule with an emotional 135-130 win Sunday over the Pacers, who remain on the outside of the postseason in the Eastern Conference.
James added 15 rebounds and 11 assists in 52 exhausting minutes — his most in more than four years — for the defending NBA champions, whose win was overshadowed by an angry exchange between James and teammate Tristan Thompson during a timeout late in the second OT.
James accepted blame for the argument and said he apologized to Thompson.
“I had good intentions but I was a little bit too demonstrative at that point in the game,” he said. “I can’t show up my teammates. Double T worked hard, he’s a big-time player for our team. I had good intentions of what I wanted to happen, but the way it came out, it didn’t look good on TV.”
Thompson was reluctant to discuss the incident.
“We’re family,” Thompson said. “Little miscommunication in the huddle. Move forward. We’re family. Got each other’s back always. Move forward.”
Pressed for more details, Thompson got defensive.
“Not going to get into it,” he snapped. “Like I said, just miscommunication. Move forward. It is what it is. Got the win, on to Orlando.”
Kyrie Irving made four free throws in the final 16.5 seconds and Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds as Cleveland stayed within a half-game of Boston for the East’s top spot. The Cavs visit the Celtics on Wednesday.
George was magnificent in defeat, scoring 19 straight points in the overtimes and adding nine rebounds and nine assists. But he couldn’t prevent the Pacers from their eighth straight road loss.
“If we play like that to finish the season off I’ll be happy with where we land,” George said. “If we can give this effort, we’ll make the playoffs.”
C.J. Miles added a season-high 27 points for Indiana, tied with Miami for the No. 8 spot with five games left. However, the Heat have the tiebreaker.
After going 7-10 in March, the Cavs began their postseason push with a solid win. But they still had lapses in focus and execution, and Thompson was screaming mad after a blown defensive assignment allowed George to hit a 3 that pulled the Pacers within 128-127 with 49 seconds left.
Love followed with a 3-pointer, and after Indiana called timeout, a heated Thompson stormed to the bench and shouted at James. Thompson walked away and sat on the scorer’s table by himself. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue came over, grabbed his arm and tried to get his players to make up.
“That’s part of the game,” Lue said. “You like to see that passion, and a lot of times take it out on the other team. They were both mad and frustrated, but that’s what you want to see. We wanted to win that game and it was a big play. Some miscommunication right there, but they got over it.”
Pacers: Lance Stephenson scored four points and committed five fouls in 18 minutes of his first game since returning to Indiana. “He came in and gave us some spark,” coach Nate McMillan said. “I like his toughness he brings to the floor. Our guys responded to that.”
Cavaliers: G Kyle Korver missed his fourth straight game with a sore left foot. … James has 11 triple-doubles this season, 53 in his career. …. James is on pace to become the first player to average 25 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and shot 54 percent from the floor. … F Richard Jefferson returned after missing two games with left knee tendinitis and played 11 minutes.
James drove the lane in the second quarter and dunked over George and Myles Turner, giving him 11 points and extending his streak of scoring at least 10 to 787 games and tying him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the second-longest streak in league history. Michael Jordan scored in double digits 866 straight times.
LEBRON VS. LANCE
James didn’t only have words with Thompson. He also got into it with long-time nemesis Stephenson, who re-signed with his former team last week.
The two have battled before, with Stephenson infamously blowing into James’ ear during the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.
“I’m happy for Lance, man,” James said. “He’s had a rough year with injuries and things of that nature. It was good. I needed that.”
Pacers: Host Toronto on Tuesday.
Cavaliers: Stay home and host Orlando on Tuesday before their showdown with the Celtics.