The Indiana Pacers almost pulled out a much-needed road victory Friday night.
But almost isn’t enough when going against LeBron James.
The four-time NBA MVP scored 13 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter and the Pacers missed a pair of key 3-pointers in the final minute as the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled out a 95-92 victory at Quicken Loans Arena.
C.J. Miles and George Hill each missed 3-pointers with the Pacers trailing 93-92 late. The Pacers then defended James well as he misfired on a 3-pointer but the Cavaliers grabbed the offensive rebound. After a foul and two Cavaliers free throws, Indiana had only 1 second for a quick shot and Miles was short on his potential game-tying, 3-point shot at the buzzer.
The Pacers (30-38) have now lost four in a row. If the playoffs were today, they would not qualify. They’re one-half game behind the Boston Celtics (30-37) for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, but the Celtics also own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Cavaliers (45-26) further solidified their standing as a second seed. James dominated play on Cleveland’s offensive end in his last 8 1/2 minutes of playing time as he handled the basketball as point guard and took every shot but one Kevin Love 3-point miss.
But the Cavaliers had five other players in double digits. Indiana didn’t have the same balance.
Hill scored 24 points and center Roy Hibbert 20 for the visitors. But the Pacers’ only other double-digit scorer was reserve forward Luis Scola with 14. Forward David West exited early after a little more than 12 minutes playing time due to an illness.
The Pacers trailed by five after one quarter but eventually got even by the end of the third quarter. On several occasions in a tight game, though, they missed shots.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel drew up a play for Miles, who missed a 3-pointer from the corner with 36.9 seconds remaining. Hibbert grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled to give Indiana another chance.
Vogel drew up another play. This time, Hill had a wide open look from beyond the arc, but he missed, too, with 30.9 seconds remaining. Scola tried to tip in the offensive rebound but missed.
The Pacers elected not to foul in the final seconds and the Cavaliers were able to run the clock down before James missed his 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired. But the long rebound was run down by Iman Shumpert. He passed to J.R. Smith, who was fouled and hit both free throws.
Cleveland made 16-of-21 foul shots to the Pacers’ 12-of-13.
Indiana returns home Saturday to host the Brooklyn Nets (27-39) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.