CLEVELAND – LeBron James did everything but dance an Irish jig.
He scored. He rebounded. He passed. He blocked shots. He got steals. And he did all that in the final 4½ minutes.
Heck, James even issued an impromptu public service announcement after leading the Cavaliers to a 99-94 win over the injury-plagued Indiana Pacers on St. Patrick’s Day.
“If you’re going to drink, drink responsibly,” he said Wednesday night after putting up 32 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, three steals, two blocks and six turnovers.
The Cavaliers (54-15) won for the ninth time in 10 games since losing center Shaquille O’Neal to a thumb injury, but they would have been drowning their sorrows were it not for James.
Indiana (22-46), which isn’t very good under the best of circumstances, was without leading scorer Danny Granger, point guard T.J. Ford, center Jeff Foster and backup Tyler Hansbrough, but it stayed in the game until the end thanks to lackluster performances by a number of Cavaliers.
James, fortunately for Cleveland, was not in that group.
“I don’t have words to describe LeBron James,” Indiana coach Jim O’Brien said. “He just is a great winner. He does whatever it takes at both ends of the court and on the glass to will his team to victory.”
Up two at halftime, Cleveland looked like it had put the Pacers away when James scored 12 points in a 19-4 run over the first 5:14 of the third period.
The Cavaliers led by 18 late in the third, but Indiana never quit and was within one point, with possession of the ball, when James came from behind to swat Brandon Rush’s layup attempt off the backboard with 4:08 to go.
“I just try to send a little message that any time you go to the hole, you’ve got to be looking for me,” James said.
After the block, James fed Anderson Varejao for a layup to put the Cavaliers up three, but he was only getting started.
A James steal failed to yield any points, but Varejao got a steal of his own and threw a lob to James for a monster dunk that gave Cleveland a five-point lead.
After James rebounded an Indiana miss and the Pacers were called for illegal defense – Mo Williams made the free throw – the small forward hit a fadeway 15-footer to put the Cavaliers up eight.
Later, James raced the length of the court to steal the ball from Rush, then headed the opposite direction and hit Varejao for a bucket.
After adding another bucket, James capped his lot-of-everything run by swatting an A.J. Price drive out of bounds.
“LeBron closed that game remarkably,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “He was terrific.
“There was a stretch where he did everything. He blocked shots, he rebounded, he pushed the ball, he scored the ball, he assisted the ball, he dunked the ball and he went to the free throw line. It was fun to see one guy take over the ballgame in a lot of different ways.”
The Cavaliers, who clinched their second straight Central Division title and third in franchise history, needed everything James gave them after going through the motions most of the night.
“I try to do what it takes to win,” James said. “We didn’t play particularly well. We had a lot of lapses. I knew I had to step up my game.”
Antawn Jamison added 17 points and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers, while Varejao and J.J. Hickson had 13 points apiece.
Roy Hibbert had 20 points for Indiana, while Troy Murphy had 19 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Cleveland improved to an NBA-best 53-18 in March since Brown was hired in 2005. In that span, the Cavaliers are 35-4 at The Q, where they’ve won 16 straight in the month.
James was the main reason Cleveland added to those numbers Wednesday, as he had 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks in the second half.
It was the fourth time in the last five games he scored at least 20 points after intermission, but the more impressive thing was that he did so much of everything.
“That typifies my game,” James said. “That’s who I am on both sides of the floor.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.