INDIANAPOLIS -- LeBron James grudgingly lived with the NBA's non-star treatment Tuesday night.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown could not.
After James scored 47 points and almost single-handedly rallied the Cavaliers to force overtime, the unthinkable happened. James, the NBA's No. 2 scorer, drew a foul with 0.2 seconds left, and Indiana's Danny Granger made one of two free throws to seal an improbable 96-95 victory that sent James to the locker room in disgust and the usually composed Brown into a tirade.
"That last call, on the run, is the worst call that I have ever been a part of," Brown said. "I cannot imagine another worse call than that. It was an awful call and for him to take away a basketball game from a team with 0.4 seconds on the clock is irresponsible."
A few moments earlier, the Pacers thought they had been wronged.
Leading 95-93 with 0.8 seconds left, the Cavs tried an alley-oop play to James off the inbounds pass. Granger stepped in front of James, who couldn't catch the ball but drew the foul, and then made both free throws to tie it at 95.
After a timeout, the Pacers ran the same play. This time, with Granger cutting to the basket and James chasing, Granger got the call.
"Luckily, we ran a good play and got the same call," Granger said.
But NBA stars, especially those in the realm of James, aren't supposed to be treated this way -- especially in a game they've dominated.
It didn't make any difference Tuesday, much to the chagrin of James and his fuming coach.
"For it to end that way, it's definitely tough on us," a subdued James said. "You never want a game to end that way."
Brown, however, was less diplomatic.
He repeatedly criticized the officials in his postgame interview, possibly setting himself up for a league fine that he, apparently, is willing to pay after watching this one.
"I don't care if I get fined. It is what it is. I saw the two plays; just a bad call determined the outcome of that game," Brown said. "If they want to fine me for telling the truth, fine me. This isn't me. I never do this."
For 47 minutes, 59.8 seconds, James was his usual spectacular self.
He connected on 15 of 21 shots, 13 of 14 free throws, made four of seven 3-pointers, had seven rebounds and four assists. He repeatedly had the crowd on its feet with high-flying dunks, nifty no-look passes, one spectacular block and an array of head fakes, crossover dribbles and acrobatic moves.
Yet somehow, perhaps with a little help from the officials, the short-handed Pacers absorbed the body blows and survived.
Troy Murphy scored 18 to lead Indiana, while Granger, playing on a sore right knee, added 16. Indiana was also missing three key contributors -- Marquis Daniels, Mike Dunleavy and Jeff Foster -- but got key plays late from backups like Travis Diener and Brandon Rush.
The combination ended Cleveland's nine-game winning streak against the Pacers, and the Cavs were in disbelief after losing back-to-back games for the first time all season.
"The last call against me was not questionable at all," James contended. "No contact was made. The pass was short. You couldn't go to the rim. I was able to get a hand on it."
James spent most of the night turning Conseco Fieldhouse into his own personal showcase.
He scored 17 in the first quarter, and his three-point play late in the first half gave Cleveland a 43-42 halftime lead.
Yet after three quarters, Indiana was still within 68-67 and opened the fourth quarter with a seven-point flurry to take a 74-67 lead.
Cleveland never led again and didn't tie it until James found the cutting Wally Szczerbiak for a layup with 20.8 seconds left to make it 93-93.
Indiana wanted the final shot, and it appeared T.J. Ford hit the winner with a 17-foot fadeaway with 0.8 seconds left.
But the crazy finish changed everything, including the role of goat and the tenor of the coaches.
"It was predetermined from the call that was made at the other end of the floor, and it is very unfortunate," Brown said. "We got the game taken away from us. Absolutely horrible."
|While LeBron is in shock over the foul, coach Mike Brown looks like he's about to lose his lunch. (AP)|
|Indiana (21-32) «||24||18||25||29||96|
|CLE:L. James 47 Pts
CLE:Z. Ilgauskas 11 Reb
CLE:L. James 4 Ast
|IND:T. Murphy 18 Pts
IND:T. Murphy 15 Reb
IND:T. Ford 4 Ast
|Players of the Game|
Indiana Pacers 3-Pack Team Memo Pads
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|M. Williams, PG||42||7-18||1-1||6||0||3||15|
|W. Szczerbiak, SF||41||2-8||2-2||7||2||3||6|
|L. James, SF||41||15-21||13-14||7||4||1||47|
|Z. Ilgauskas, C||35||5-17||0-0||11||0||5||10|
|B. Wallace, C||25||0-2||1-2||7||2||0||1|
|D. Gibson, PG||26||2-7||0-0||1||1||5||6|
|A. Varejao, C||23||2-3||4-10||8||2||0||8|
|J. Hickson, PF||5||1-1||0-0||2||0||1||2|
|D. Jackson, PF||1||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|E. Snow, PG||Did Not Play|
|L. Wright, C||Did Not Play|
|D. West, SG||Did Not Play|
|S. Pavlovic, SG||Did Not Play|
|T. Kinsey, SF||Did Not Play|
|T. Johnson, SG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|D. Granger, SF||38||5-18||3-4||5||1||2||16|
|J. Jack, PG||38||2-8||3-3||3||3||0||7|
|T. Murphy, C||37||7-9||0-0||15||3||4||18|
|T. Ford, PG||30||6-13||2-3||1||4||1||15|
|R. Hibbert, C||24||6-9||0-0||6||1||3||12|
|R. Nesterovic, C||21||3-9||2-4||1||1||5||8|
|B. Rush, SG||20||2-7||0-0||5||0||0||4|
|T. Diener, PG||18||5-7||0-0||1||0||0||13|
|M. Baston, SF||9||0-2||0-0||2||0||3||0|
|S. Graham, SF||6||1-2||1-1||1||2||0||3|
|J. Foster, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Tinsley, PG||Did Not Play|
|M. Dunleavy, SG||Did Not Play|
|M. Daniels, SG||Did Not Play|
|J. McRoberts, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|