INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Cleveland Cavaliers limped into the NBA playoffs with a four-game losing streak to finish the regular season, some wondered if the reigning champions were vulnerable.
LeBron James -- at least for one series -- removed all doubts.
James scored 33 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:08 remaining, and Cleveland defeated the Indiana Pacers 106-102 on Sunday afternoon, completing a four-game sweep in the opening-round series.
"Once again, we just had to weather the storm," said James, who made 13 of 25 field-goal attempts and added 10 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks. "We beat a very good team. We had to make plays at the end, and we did."
Cleveland's four victories came by an average of four points, tying the smallest average margin of victory in a four-game series sweep, also set in the 1975 NBA Finals when the Golden State Warriors defeated the then-Washington Bullets.
The Cavaliers also finished -- regular season and playoffs -- 7-1 against Indiana, winning the last seven in a row, although this one certainly wasn't easy.
"Offensively, we were not that good," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. "We didn't play with the same spunk and pace. But defensively, I thought we were really good. We did a great job on Paul George. We kept him to 15 points."
Indiana, which never had been swept in a seven-game series, took a 102-100 lead on a Thaddeus Young tip-in with 1:31 to play, but the Cavaliers scored the game's final six points to advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference.
For James, it was his 21st consecutive first-round playoff game victory, breaking Magic Johnson's record of 20 set in the mid-1980s.
James' 3-pointer gave Cleveland a 103-102 lead, and Kyle Korver made two free throws with 19.1 seconds left for a 105-102 lead. George missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with one second left, and James got the rebound and was fouled. He made 1 of 2 free throws to account for the final score.
"Paul's shots were short today, which is a sign that he was worn down," Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. "He had carried us so much in the last month, plus in this series, we asked him to guard LeBron some, too.
"We showed heart, but it was a very difficult game emotionally. Give Cleveland credit. They made shots and got big rebounds when they needed to."
Indiana closed to within 96-90 with 8:09 remaining, and a George 3-pointer sliced the deficit to 98-93 with 6:26 to play. With 4:17 remaining, the Pacers were within 100-98.
"It's really frustrating to continue losing to the same team or the same person (James)," George said. "It's what I work hard for in the summers to try to help lead a team along and ultimately, it's who I am always going to see and face. But again, we just came up short and didn't do enough."
When asked if he hopes to remain with the Pacers, George, whose future has been discussed frequently in Indiana, said, "I ain't even at that point yet. Next question."
The Cavaliers increased their lead to 81-69 with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter. Cleveland outscored Indiana 30-25 during the third period and led 88-77 with 12 minutes remaining. James and Irving each had 26 points through 36 minutes, including 16 from Irving during the third quarter.
After the Pacers pulled even at 50 in the second quarter, the Cavaliers finished the first half on an 8-2 run to lead 58-52 through 24 minutes. Cleveland outscored Indiana 36-28 during the second period, getting 12 points from James and 12 from Williams.
The Cavaliers shot 52.2 percent (12 of 23) in the second quarter and held George without a field goal on 0-of-4 shooting.
James finished the first half with 20 points, six rebounds and two assists. Love had 11 first-half rebounds. Stephenson led Indiana in the first half with 14 points, and Jeff Teague had 10.
Indiana led 24-22 after one quarter despite shooting only 43.5 percent (10 of 23) and turning the ball over five times. Teague had six first-quarter points, and George and Stephenson each added five. Cleveland got 10 first-quarter points from Irving and eight from James but was 0 of 6 from 3-point range.
NOTES: Cavaliers F Kevin Love had eight first-quarter rebounds. ... This series marks the second time in franchise history that the Pacers trailed a best-of-seven 3-0. In the first round of the 2010-2011 postseason, Indiana trailed the Chicago Bulls 3-0 and lost 4-1. ... Indiana set a franchise single-game playoff record with 16 made 3-pointers in Game 3 but also allowed a franchise record 21 made 3s in the 119-114 defeat. ... Through three games, Cleveland's 51 percent field goal shooting was the best among the 16 playoff teams. ... Entering Game 4, Cleveland had beaten Indiana six consecutive times, scoring at least 109 points in each of those six victories, which includes three regular-season games.