CLEVELAND — The Indiana Pacers felt cheated — by LeBron James and the officials.
Moments before James beat them with a game-winning, step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer, the Pacers were poised to take the lead in Game 5 on Victor Oladipo's driving layup. However, James came from behind and blocked Oladipo's shot, which appeared to hit the backboard before Cleveland's star touched it — a goaltending violation.
Instead, there was no call and James then dropped his 28-footer over Thaddeus Young to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 lead in this tight Eastern Conference first-round series.
The Pacers didn't complain on the floor. But later in their locker room they were angry about the game-swinging play. Several of the Pacers shook their heads while watching replays.
"Of course, I thought it was goaltending," Lance Stephenson said. "We should've got the ref's attention. When you look at it on the replay, it's clearly goaltending."
Under NBA rules, goaltending is only reviewable if the call is made on the floor.
Oladipo thought he was fouled by James before the non-call.
"I got a step on him," Oladipo said. "I felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it. It was a goaltend. It's hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back, we tied the game up, that layup was huge.
"Give him credit where credit is due. The three was big-time. Definitely huge. But who's to say they even run that play? We don't know what happens. It's unfortunate. It really sucks that they missed that."
James smiled when asked to describe his block, which was reminiscent of the one he made on Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
"I definitely thought it was a goaltend," James said with a laugh. "Of course I didn't think it was a goaltend. I try to make plays like that all the time and I mean he made a heck of a move, got me leaning right and he went left and I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play on the ball. And I was able to make a play."
Even if goaltending was called, the Cavaliers would have gotten the ball in frontcourt, giving James a makeable shot in the final seconds.
Said Pacers center Myles Turner: "It's clearly a goaltend, but that doesn't change the fact that they made the game-winning shot."