INDIANAPOLIS — The only question left in the final minutes was whether LeBron James would get his 27th career triple-double.
He finished one rebound short, but the Cavaliers still beat the Indiana Pacers 94-73 on Friday night to win their seventh straight game. James finished with 22 points, a season-high 13 assists and nine boards.
The sellout crowd, most of which stayed despite their team trailing by as many as 23 points, got excited when James grabbed his ninth rebound with 3:37 to play. He left the game with 2:36 remaining and his team ahead 93-71.
It was the third time in six games that he missed a triple-double by a single rebound, but James didn’t mind coming up short.
“It’s all about wins for me,” he said. “I think I’ve probably had the most one-rebound or one-assist-away triple-doubles than anybody in NBA history. Those things will come. Individual accolades will come.”
Cleveland coach Mike Brown said he planned to keep his star in the game longer, but James called a 20-second timeout after he made two free throws.
James was 6-for-18 from the field, but dominated every other facet.
“He’s brilliant,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said. “He’s just an off-the-chart player. One of the greats of all time. He comes to play every night.”
Shaquille O’Neal tied a season high with 22 points in 25 minutes on 8-for-10 shooting.
“Shaq is going to play like this,” James said. “We know how good a player he is, and tonight was another prime example.”
Danny Granger led the Pacers with 13 points, but he shot 6 for 23 from the field. He also had 10 rebounds and five assists.
The Pacers shot 33.7 percent from the field and scored their second-fewest points this season. Indiana scored nine points on 3 for 19 shooting in the fourth quarter.
“We couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” O’Brien said. “We drove it to the basket, and when they weren’t blocking shots, they were intimidating shots.”
It was the fewest points the Cavaliers allowed all season, bettering the 79 points they gave up against Charlotte on Halloween.
“Defensively, we were in tune with just about everything they were doing on offense,” James said.
James had nine assists in the first quarter to help the Cavaliers take a 36-18 lead. He just missed the team record of 10 assists in a quarter, accomplished by Mark Price in 1990 and ‘93.
“I think when you can get your teammates involved early — I think I had nine assists in the first quarter — it gave us an opportunity to have a 36-point quarter,” James said. “It gets everyone involved, everyone got an opportunity to touch the ball on the offensive end.”
The Cavaliers led 58-44 at halftime.
Indiana hung around early in the second half. A three-point play by Troy Murphy cut Cleveland’s lead to 68-58 with four minutes left in the third quarter. Daniel Gibson and Jawad Williams hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead back to 16 within a minute.
A steal and two-handed jam by James gave Cleveland a 77-58 lead.
O’Neal tied his season high for points on a reverse layup with 8:26 left, but Cleveland couldn’t put the game out of reach. An annoyed James re-entered the game with 6:55 left, and he quickly converted a three-point play to push the lead back to 16.
The Cavaliers have an 11-3 record in January. James has scored at least 30 points eight times, more than 40 points once and has reached double figures in assists five times this month.
“You look at the numbers, and see what I’ve done as an individual, and the best part about it is that it results in wins for us,” he said.