The joke almost was on them.
Indiana erased a 14-point deficit in the third quarter before Cleveland rallied behind LeBron James' fourth triple-double of the season to beat the Pacers 111-106 Sunday for their third straight win.
Cleveland's obnoxious behavior and the lapse that followed bothered coach Mike Brown.
"We have to do a better job of respecting the game," he said. "Especially when we're up. We've got to continue doing the little things on both ends of the floor that got us the lead."
James, the league's leading scorer, finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
He needed to perform that way because his teammates struggled without him. The Cavaliers led 71-63 in the third quarter when James went to the bench to rest. With James out, the Pacers went on a 12-2 run to take a 75-73 lead at the end of the period.
Indiana swingman Marquis Daniels scored six of his 25 points during the run. During that stretch of nearly four minutes, the Cavaliers had five turnovers and took only two shots.
James, who did more than his share of trash talking, gained respect for the Pacers as the game progressed.
"They're more up-and-down," he said. "I think [Pacers coach Jim] O'Brien has definitely put them in a position to win ball games because they run up-and-down. They have the athletes to do that, and they have the point guard that's going to lead them. I like what I'm seeing."
It was the 14th triple-double of his career.
"He might be the only guy I've seen that looks like he was engineered to play basketball," Danny Granger, who guarded James for much of the game, said. "He's a phenomenal player."
James said the triple-doubles only matter if they lead to wins.
"We're playing some good basketball, and I'm the catalyst of that. The best thing about it, we got three straight wins and that's good. We got a little streak going."
Jamaal Tinsley had 24 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for Indiana, but he had eight turnovers and shot 7-for-20 from the field.
Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal missed his third straight game with swelling in his left knee and lower leg. The timetable for the six-time All-Star's return is uncertain.
It was Cleveland's fourth straight win in the series, but the Cavaliers nearly blew it at the end. Cleveland led 109-106 with 8.8 seconds to go when James missed two free throws to give the Pacers a chance to tie. Shawne Williams missed a 3-pointer, and Pavlovic rebounded. Pavlovic made two free throws at the other end to finish the scoring.
The Cavaliers led 88-86 with 6:31 to play when Daniel Gibson was called for a foul while boxing out Jeff Foster. It was Gibson's sixth, and he was issued a technical foul for arguing the call and throwing his mouthpiece. Tinsley made the technical free throw, and Foster made one of two free throws to tie the score at 88.
The technical and ejection caught Gibson by surprise.
"I was aware that throwing anything into the stands was a technical, but I threw it at the ground," he said. "I really didn't think they even saw it. I was basically throwing it and walking to the bench, then I hear whistles. I was like 'aw, man.' I would never do that, especially at that critical point in the game."
James said the officials didn't cost the Cavaliers their advantage.
"What lost us the lead is, we didn't get back in transition and they were able to get out and run," he said. "They had a great fast-breaking scheme today and we weren't able to get back. We were able clean it up in the fourth quarter and pull out the win."
O'Neal entered the game fifth on the Pacers in scoring. He has led the team the past six years. He's averaging 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds. ... Indiana C Troy Murphy was 1-for-10 from the field and sat for most of the second half. ... Tinsley has had 10 or more assists in four of his last five games. ... Cleveland C Zydrunas Ilgauskas had three straight double-doubles, but finished with eight points and eight rebounds against the Pacers. ... Indiana has scored 100 or more points in six straight games. ... Cleveland's 38 points in the fourth quarter are the most the Cavaliers have scored in any quarter this season.