INDIANAPOLIS-After losing game four in Miami it seemed like it was going to take Paul George outscoring LeBron James by 30 points and for James to tied up in foul trouble for the Indiana Pacers to have a shot at staying alive in the Eastern Conference Finals.
George delivered 37 points and six rebounds in the greatest playoff performance of his young career and he did so when Indiana needed it most.
It wasn’t about the Pacers knowing they have to win the next three games to get to the NBA Finals despite what Pacers head coach Frank Vogel preached before game five Wednesday night. It wasn’t even about coming out and playing the most flawless basketball for three straight games, it was about not letting the circumstances and the deficit overwhelm a team that has shown everything but mental toughness and the ability to overcome insurmountable adversity.
One game at a time, one quarter at a time, one possession at a time and, well, a little bit of luck never hurt anyone.
Much like game two the Pacers flew out of the gate aggressive on offense and closing out, rebounding and rotating on defense so well it just looked like their night. Indiana led 22-16 at the end of the first quarter and James had already picked up two fouls. But much like game two, the Pacers looked frozen throughout much of the second unit’s time on the floor without an answer or a prayer on defense—oh yeah; LeBron picked up his third foul and sat the rest of the half.
Still, the Miami Heat managed to outscored the Pacers in the second quarter 26-11; ending the half on a 6-0 run that put the Pacers down nine points. For all intents and purposes, it was all but over.
“I thought our whole team had a little bit of a yellow-light-mentality and got hesitant a little bit when we got down and my message to the whole team was the light needs to be on green for all of us. We need to go, we need to attack,” Vogel said. “(I told them) to not lose belief. There’s still plenty of basketball left. We can take advantage of (LeBron’s foul trouble) in the third quarter, in the second half. We just need to stay aggressive.”
The Pacers answered the call with a 31-15 third quarter that propelled them to a 64-57 lead over the Heat at the end of the third quarter. George rejuvenated the home crowd and his teammates with a buzzer-beating three at the end of the third quarter to cap the Pacers run. In the game’s final 14 minutes, George and David West combined for the Pacers final 36 points (George 24, West 12).
A fifth foul on LeBron with eight minutes to go in the third quarter and the continuation of a scrambled, deep rotation from Heat coach Eric Spoelstra helped Indiana along—but that had little to do with the performance George put on.
There were jumpers that were as contested as you can get and steals leading to fast break dunks that George fed on while James sat on the bench. LeBron’s defense would have likely been a tad more useful on the hot handed George, but when a guy is in the zone like that I’m not sure if putting a lid on the basket would have stopped him.
But even in such a performance, it was still the Heat. There were still guys that were going to contribute even in the absence of the greatest player on the planet. Rashard Lewis scored 18 points on six threes, Ray Allen put up 15 points off the bench while Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade combined for 38 points and 18 rebounds.
“We’re capable of winning a ball game when LeBron is scoring 30-40 points,” George said. “It’s Rashard Lewis scoring six threes that we have to be cautious of and Ray Allen scoring 15 that we have to be cautious of. There are some areas where we can hold up with LeBron having a spectacular game. But it’s (important to) contain the role players and making sure they don’t have big nights.”
In a game where James had seven points and only played 24 minutes, it still came down to the Heat with the ball, the ball in LeBron’s hand and a wide open look for Bosh in the corner with a chance to send the Heat to the NBA Finals. With just eight seconds left, James advanced through the lane after beating George off the dribble, and unlike game one of last year’s conference finals, James had Roy Hibbert there to meet him, closing down on James forcing him to make the decision between going up and dishing it. James dished it to a wide open Bosh in what LeBron referred to as his “sweet spot” but not this time.
After the game, LeBron was asked the most nauseating, ran-into-the-ground-question of his career: did he make the right decision?
“My teammates trust that I’m going to make the right play to help us win. I trust that I’m going to make the right play. We got a great look. If (Bosh) makes that shot and we get a stop then we’re headed to the finals. You don’t think about things you can do in the past, you just correct them in the future,” James said.
While it’s good for morale, adding some pep in the step of the Pacers, the evidence is truth of something that is as inevitable as the sun coming up tomorrow; Indiana has to play better than they did in game five to survive game six in Miami–I would expect nothing short of a double-double from James, not to mention Chris Anderson returning to the lineup. The Pacers’ bench accounted for six points—count it out with me; one, two, three, four, five, six—points Wednesday night. It’s going to take more, plain and simple, much, much more for the Indiana Pacers to win game six Friday and bring this series back home one more time on Sunday for a crack at their first birth to the NBA Finals in 14 years.
Corey Elliot is a Senior Writer at the Indiana Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. He is recognized as accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Click here to follow Corey and the ISR on twitter.
Corey Elliot is a Beat Writer at the Indiana Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. He is recognized as accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access.
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