INDIANAPOLIS -- LeBron James was unable to recreate two of the more memorable late-game shots of his career in Friday's 97-95 loss to the Indiana Pacers, and the Cleveland Cavaliers closed out their five-game road trip with a 1-4 record, extending their slump to eight losses in their past 11 games.
James' first miscue came with 2.3 seconds left when he drove baseline around the Pacers' Darren Collison and was whistled for stepping out of bounds, thwarting his chance at a go-ahead layup with the Cavs down 96-95.
In his first ever playoff game in 2006, James played the hero by tiptoeing the line and staying in play, leading to a game-winning layup to beat the Washington Wizards (that time he was coming from the left of the hoop, rather than the right).
"Just trying to be aggressive," James said. "The referees made a call, they reviewed it and the call stands."
He later went on to fully cop to stepping out of bounds on Twitter, while poking fun at how Giannis Antetokounmpo got away with making the same infraction in Oklahoma City earlier this season without getting called for it.
Then, right before the buzzer, he received a full-court outlet pass from Kevin Love with the Cavs down 97-95 after Collison went 1-for-2 at the line. His 3-pointer -- similar to the one he banked in on the right wing to force overtime in a game against the Washington Wizards last February -- caromed off the back rim this time instead.
"Shouldn't have came down to that point, but it did," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. "Kevin threw a great pass. Bron, tough shot, but easy shot for him and he got a good look."
James missed his last three shots of the fourth quarter, racked up a turnover for stepping on the baseline and also was called for a technical foul for shoving Lance Stephenson in the chest with his forearm that doubled the Pacers' lead from one to two at the time when the Pacers hit the free throw.
"Lance is just a little dirty that's all," James said. "He's a little dirty. We got a history, so I already know that. I should've known. I've known since school, it's not the guy who tells the joke who gets caught, it's the guy who laughs. So they caught me on the retaliation, so -- but he played well tonight."
Indeed, Stephenson -- whom the Cavs could have signed last season to a 10-day contract after working him out in a midseason free agent minicamp -- put up 16 points, 11 rebounds and four assists off the bench. He was more impactful than any of Cleveland's bench players on the night, that's for sure.
But comparing James' late misses with his previous heroics or delving into Cleveland missing out on Stephenson are really just distractions from the bigger picture here.
The Cavs, to borrow the phrasing James used this week, are in a "funk." Friday's funk was better than it has been lately, however. Without both their starting point guard and backup point guard in the lineup -- Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade were both given the night off to rest -- Cleveland built a 22-point lead, had its best defensive quarter of the season by holding Indiana to 12 points in the opening frame and kept the Pacers to 97 points overall (far better than the 127, 127 and 133 the Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors hung on them the previous three games).
Of course, they lost that 22-point lead, accounting for their biggest collapse of the season. And they came out flat in the third quarter, getting outscored 32-16, when they could have put the Pacers away and salvaged a 2-3 trip.
But at least they competed. And mostly, they competed the so-called right way. Which is what Lue was trying to address when he made his cryptic "agenda" comment after the Toronto game.
"I'm going to say this and we're going to move forward because it's over," Lue said before the Indiana game as an explainer. "It's not you're guarding [Victor] Oladipo or I'm guarding Oladipo, we're all guarding Oladipo. It's a team thing. So, 'Oh my man didn't score, but he scores.' No, that's not team basketball. We've got to get back to that helping the helper. A guy goes to help and then you help him. We just haven't been doing that as of late. We have to make guys better. When guys are struggling, we have to get guys easy shots or open shots and continue to encourage those guys. I'm going to leave it at that."
The Cavs will be best served to leave this portion of the season in the past, as well. Dwelling on their poor play won't do them any good with the Golden State Warriors coming to town on Monday. Talk about a welcome home gift.
It's a chance to get things back on track for one game, regardless of what they've been going through.
"You could win a hundred straight games and face the Warriors and there are still challenges," James said.
He's right. Another night. Another challenge. Another chance for James to recreate one of his heroic moments. A chase-down block or two sure couldn't hurt the Cavs right now.