Cavaliers clinch playoff berth with 129-120 win over Pacers 
            BY TIM SHIRER
(CLEVELAND, OH) - The Cleveland Cavaliers (47-33, 25-14 home) entered Friday night’s game as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The fall has been swift as the Cavs entered the all-star break on with a 36-16 record and were the number two seed in the conference. Since the break the team has an 11-17 record and has not yet clinched a playoff spot. A win on Friday night would have done that.

The Cavs welcomed the Indiana Pacers (46-34, 21-19 away) to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse badly needed a win to make their path in the postseason clearer. The Pacers entered the game with a 2-1 edge in the season series and also led the all-time series 108-102, but the Cavs had the edge in Cleveland (Richfield Coliseum, RMFH) 65-42. The Cavs made it interesting in the second half but pulled out a 129-120 win to clinch a playoff berth for the second consecutive season.

The game got off to a slow start with the Cavs taking an early 7-3 lead with 8:33 left on the clock on a layup by Jarrett Allen. With 7:50 Evan Mobley gave the Cavs a 9-5 lead when he maneuvered his way around Myles Turner for a one hand jumper in the paint. With 6:17 left in the first quarter Mobley picked up his second personal foul. Mobley went to the bench and Georges Niang replaced him for the Cavs. The Pacers cut the Cavs’ lead to 17-15 with 5:05 left in the first period when Aaron Nesmith drove the lane for an uncontested layup. The Cavs lead ballooned to 21-15 with 4:50 left when Donovan Mitchell hit a three pointer and was fouled by Nesmith. Mitchell drained the free throw. With 3:21 left the Cavs lead was double digits at 28-18 when LeVert scored on a spinning layup. Indiana coach Rick Carlisle called an immediate timeout to gather his troops. After Allen missed two free throws at the 1:25 mark the Pacers cut the Cleveland lead to 32-26 on a jumper by Jalen Smith with :41 left on the first quarter clock. With :05.7 left on the clock Mitchell hit a three giving the Cavs a 35-26 lead at the end of the first 12 minutes. Mitchell led everyone with 13 first quarter points. TJ McConnell and Turner led the Pacers with six points apiece. The Cavs won the battle in the paint in the first quarter 22-14 and outrebounded the Pacers 11-10.

The Pacers cut the Cleveland lead to 37-31 with 10:13 left on a three pointer by Ben Sheppard. It appeared that was too close for the Cavs as they scored the next eight points over the next 1:01 to take their biggest lead of the night to that point 45-31. Carlisle had no choice but to take another timeout to try and squash the Cavs momentum. After two straight turnovers by Darius Garland the Pacers cut the Cavs lead to 47-39 with 7:12 left. Cavs bench boss JB Bickerstaff had seen enough calling a timeout. It looked like Bickerstaff gave Garland a piece of his mind prior to talking to the team during the timeout. During the timeout words were exchanged between Niang and McConnell and both were accessed technical fouls. The Cavs extended the lead back to double digits at 51-41 with 5:47 left when Mobley dropped in a layup. The Cavs lead grew to 56-45 with 4:37 left when Mitchell hit Allen in the paint and the big man dropped it home. With 3:42 left the Cavs lead was at 60-47 when Max Strus hit Allen in the paint for the assist. Aside from the four turnovers by Garland it looked like the Cavs were on a mission in the first half to clinch the playoff spot by getting the win against Indiana. A critical foul call came with 2:07 left in the first half as Mobley was called for his third personal and the Pacers cut the lead to 62-54. After the Pacers trimmed the lead to seven points Allen put it back at double digits hitting a jumper, getting fouled and hitting the free throw giving the Cavs a 67-57 lead with 1:20 left in the second quarter. Siakam cut the lead to eight after he was fouled by Niang and hit both free throws with :58.1 left. LeVert gave the Cavs a 70-59 lead at the break when Strus hit him at the top of the arc, and he drained a three with :03.4 left on the clock. Mitchell led all scorers with 18 first half points, Allen also had 16 for the Cavs. Siakam and Turner paced Indiana with 11 each. The Cavs outrebounded the Pacers 22-17 in the first 24 minutes. The Cavs also continued their domination in the paint from the first quarter outscoring Indians 44-28 in the half. One problem for Cleveland was six turnovers (four by Garland) resulting in 13 Indiana points.

The Cavs maintained their lead through the first half of the third quarter with an 82-72 lead with 6:31 left on the third quarter clock. With 3:07 left in the third quarter the Pacers cut the Cavs lead to 91-85 on a fastbreak layup by Nesmith after a turnover on a bad pass by Allen. Indiana cut the lead to three points with :41 left. When the quarter ended the Cavs, lead was three at 97-94. The Pacers outscored the Cavs 35-27 in the third. The third quarter has been a problem for the Cavs during the post all-star break slump. After three quarters Mitchell led everyone in scoring with 31, Allen had 24. Haliburton led the Pacers with 16. The Pacers outrebounded the Cavs 13-6 in the third to take the lead in the game on the boards 30-28.

The Cavs went on a surge to start the fourth quarter outscoring the Pacers 6-2 in the first 1:55 of the quarter. Things remained close with the Cavs taking a 107-100 lead with 8:54 left in the quarter on a jumper by Mitchell. With 7:44 left Mobley was called for his fifth foul sending Andrew Nembhard to the line. Nembhard hit both cutting the Cavs lead to 107-102. Allen was then fouled at the other end while missing a layup. He missed both free throws keeping the Cavs lead at five. The Cavs’ lead then shrank to 107-105 with 6:27 remaining after it looked like Haliburton took steps and then drained a three. Bickerstaff took an immediate timeout. After the timeout the Cavs lead was extended to five after Allen made a layup and was fouled. He hit the free throw to give the Cavs a 110-105 lead with 6:12 left. With 4:59 left Strus gave the Cavs a 115-109 lead when he hit a three from the top of the arc on a pass from Garland. With 4:04 left after a Pacers turnover Mitchell hit Mobley and he hit a jumper to give the Cavs 117-11 lead. After Siakam hit a three Garland hit a three on the other end giving the Cavs a 120-114 lead with 3:30 remaining. The Pacers closed to within two points at 120-118 with 2:03 left when Siakam drove the lane to score. The Cavs then turned the ball over at the other end. The Pacers, however, could not take advantage, taking a bad three point shot that sailed out of bounds giving the Cavs the ball back. The Cavs then took a timeout, they had one left, the Pacers had two remaining. With :50.1 left on the clock Garland, who has been the subject of some criticism lately hit a shot from the top of the three point arc to give the Cavs a 123-118 lead. The Pacers took a timeout and had one remaining. With :41.9 left LeVert fouled Nembhard, he went to the line and hit both cutting the Cavs lead to 123-120. With :24.3 left Strus attempted a three from the baseline and was fouled by Haliburton. Strus drained two of three giving the Cavs a 125-120 lead. The Pacers took a desperation three with :17.3 left it was rebounded by former Pacer LeVert. He was fouled with :15.8 left he hit one of two sealing the Cavaliers win and clinching their second consecutive playoff berth. Okoro then capped off the Cavs scoring with a fastbreak layup on an assist from Strus and was fouled. He hit the free throw giving the Cavs the 129-120 win.

Mitchell led all scorers in the game with 33 points, Allen had 31 points and 13 rebounds for another double double. The Pacers were led by Siakam and Haliburton in a losing effort. Haliburton finished with a double double as he had 12 assists.

This season marks the first time the Cavs have clinched a post season berth in consecutive seasons since they went to four consecutive finals from 2015-18. The Cavs and the Guardians/Indians are the only two Cleveland organizations to clinch playoff berths in consecutive seasons in the last thirty years.

The Cavs will finish the regular season on Sunday at 1 pm at RMFH against the Charlotte Hornets (20-60, 9-30 away). The Cavs and Hornets have split the season series one game apiece, both games were in Charlotte. The Hornets recorded the win in the last meeting on March 27th 118-111. The Cavs hold the edge in the Cavs hold the all-time series lead 75-50 and are 47-15 in Cleveland (Richfield Coliseum, RMFH). 
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​POSTED 04/12/2024 22:29 
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Cavaliers Donovan Mitchell scores two of his 33 points in the Cavs win.                                                                                                              Photo by Tommy Shirer