INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George and the Pacers got one win Wednesday night.
Now comes the hard part: Winning an elimination game at Miami against LeBron James and the Heat.
George scored 21 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter and inspired his teammates to withstand the Heat’s frantic late charge to help keep the Pacers’ once-promising season alive with a 93-90 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“We have to go and basically do the impossible, which is go down there and beat them in front of an unbelievable crowd with unbelievable energy and knowing that LeBron is going to come back and try to respond,” Pacers forward David West said after finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds. “We’ve got an ultimate challenge in front of us. I think guys are up for it.”
While George fell just short of his career playoff high (39) and four points short of Reggie Miller’s franchise record for points in an NBA playoff game, he also had six rebounds, six steals and only three turnovers in 45 minutes. And he helped limit James to a career playoff-low seven points in 24 1/2 minutes, largely because the four-time MVP spent most of the night in foul trouble.
It was good enough, barely, to get within 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is Friday night at Miami. The Heat haven’t lost back-to-back playoff games since the 2012 conference finals against Boston, and the Pacers know they have to continue playing the way they did in Game 5 if they intend to get Game 7 back in Indy.
“Coach told me, `Green light. Stay on green.’ David West kept telling me, `Don’t keep no bullets in the chamber’ so I really just came out firing,” George said. “My teammates found me and I got hot.”
Even without James going full throttle, the Heat still had a chance.
After falling into an 11-point hole early in the fourth quarter, the Big Three – James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade – rallied the Heat. James’ only 3-pointer of the night tied the score at 81 with 3:51 left, and after Indiana answered with five straight, the Heat twice closed to within one in the final 1:16. They even had a chance to take the lead with 4.9 seconds left, but a 3-pointer from Bosh that would have given Miami the lead was off the mark.
Bosh finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Wade and Rashard Lewis each had 18 as the Heat went 15 of 31 on 3-pionters.
Now the Heat will get a second chance to clinch their fourth straight conference championship at home, where they’ve won 10 straight postseason games. The last team to reach the NBA Finals four straight times was Boston from 1984-87, and Miami is eager to make sure they don’t have another trip back to Indy.
“It’s the Eastern Conference Finals,” James said. “There should be urgency, no matter what.”
George was the personification of urgency Wednesday as he delivered the most clutch shooting performance of his young career. The 24-year-old All-Star was 12 of 19 from the field in the second half and was 5 of 14 on 3s in the game.
But the Pacers needed everything else to go right just to survive.
The Heat committed 17 turnovers, compared to just 13 for the usually turnover-prone Pacers, Indiana had a 45-38 rebounding edge, and it needed every one of George’s points in the fourth quarter. The 21 points broke Michael Jordan’s previous record for most points in a playoff quarter against Miami. Jordan had 20 against the Heat in May 1997.
“I just felt it. I felt in rhythm. I had to be aggressive,” George said. “I tried to come out and be aggressive to start this game off and I was getting looks. I got hot.”
And this one lived up to the heavyweight billing.
There were hard falls, tough plays and strange sights.
James watched helplessly from the bench after picking up his fifth foul with 8:34 left in the third quarter as the Pacers went on a 23-7 run to turn a 50-41 deficit into a 64-57 lead.
Lance Stephenson made things even stranger when he attempted to listen in on one of Miami’s huddles, drawing a glare from coach Erik Spoelstra, and later blew in James’ ear. James cracked a small smile.
“I’m just here to play basketball, man. All the extracurricular activities, I don’t really get into,” James said. “I’m just trying to win. We need one more win to get to the finals. That’s my only concern.”
Indiana extended the lead to 77-66 early in the fourth on one of George’s dunks.
Then the Heat scored nine straight to make it 77-75, tied it at 81 and twice managed to get within one in the final 76 seconds before George answered with a 3. West finally sealed it by making 1 of 2 free throws after Bosh’s errant 3.