INDIANAPOLIS – When Indiana Pacers coach Nate McMillan went small Friday night, 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 22-point, first-half deficit and beat Cleveland 97-95. It’s the Pacers’ third win this season over the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs.
“It feels good, but it’s a long season,” a more subdued Stephenson said in the locker room. “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 21 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, a costly point.
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 211-cm 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 and twice stopped James when he could have given the Cavs the lead.
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.”
Warriors 108, Bucks 94
In Milwaukee, Kevin Durant scored 26 points, Draymond Green added 21 and Golden State used a 13-4 run in the fourth quarter to beat the Bucks.
With sharpshooting star Stephen Curry still sidelined by a right ankle injury, the Warriors clamped down on defense and did most of their damage on the other end in the lane.
T-Wolves 118, Knicks 108
In Minneapolis, Karl-Anthony Towns fell one assist shy of his second career triple-double, scoring 23 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in Minnesota’s victory over New York.
Taj Gibson added 17 points and Andrew Wiggins had 16 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves shot 56.7 percent (38 of 67) over the final three quarters to come from behind and win their fourth game in a row and 11th of 14 overall.
Rockets 112, Suns 95
In Phoenix, Chris Paul scored 25 points to lead six Houston players in the double figures and the Rockets, still without injured James Harden, rolled past the Suns.
Houston, in its sixth straight game with Harden sidelined by a hamstring injury, led by 18 in the second quarter, 22 at the end of the third and 27 in the fourth in its sixth consecutive victory over Phoenix.
Wizards 125, Magic 119
In Washington, Bradley Beal and John Wall each scored 30 points and the Wizards snapped a two-game losing streak.
Ian Mahinmi finished with a season-high 17 points in the defense-optional game. Washington shot 56.8 percent from the field and scored a season-high 74 points in the paint.
Pelicans 119, Trail Blazers 113
In New Orleans, Anthony Davis scored 36 points in his return from a right ankle sprain.
Davis did not appear at all bothered by the injury that kept him out of Wednesday night’s narrow loss in Memphis, scoring on everything from explosive dribble drives to soaring dunks.
Hornets 99, Jazz 88
In Charlotte, Kemba Walker scored 22 points and Frank Kaminsky added 16 to lead the Hornets over Utah for their fourth victory in six games.
Marvin Williams scored 15 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 12 for Charlotte, which won despite an off night for Dwight Howard, who scored just two first-half points. Howard finished with eight points on 2-of-9 shooting. He also went 4-for-10 from the foul line.
Nets 110, Hawks 105
In Atlanta, Spencer Dinwiddie had 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, and Jahlil Okafor added 17 points in a reserve role.
Dinwiddie made the go-ahead basket with 11 seconds left as the Nets snapped a three-game losing streak to move past an embarrassing 34-point home loss to Detroit two nights earlier.
Nuggets 87, Grizzlies 78
In Denver, Will Barton scored 17 points, Trey Lyles had 16 and the Nuggets overcame a slow start to beat Memphis, snapping a season-high, three-game losing streak.
Nikola Jokic added 14 points and nine rebounds for Denver, which played without guard Gary Harris, who was excused for personal reasons. It was the first game Harris has missed this season. Barton started in his place.