George’s reply: “No, I want the matchup, I’ll be OK.”
At various points during Game 4 Sunday night in Washington, Vogel thought hard about bringing George to the bench for even a short breather.
“I kept wanting to try and get him a rest and he kept saying no,” Vogel said. “Usually I’ll override that but he kept making big shots, too, and when a guy’s going like that I leave him in.”
Once George started hitting big shots, he never really stopped. When he was done, the only ones worn out were the Wizards.
Playing all but the final 1:37 of the first quarter, George racked up 28 of his 39 points (a postseason career-high) in the second half, 15 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Pacers to the brink of a return to the Eastern Conference Finals with a 95-92 victory over Washington in Verizon Center.
The Pacers can close out the series in Game 5 Tuesday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and then become big Brooklyn fans, hoping the Nets can extend, if not defeat, the Miami Heat in the other East semifinal series.
Even with George’s heroics, the Pacers had to overcome deficits of 17 in the third quarter and nine with 7:51 remaining to pull off the road sweep of Games 3 and 4. They did it according to script, with stifling, physical defense and methodical, opportunistic offense.
After racking up 55 points and a 17-point lead by halftime, the Wizards managed 37 points and 35 percent shooting in the second half. In the Pacers’ two victories in Verizon Center, they outscored the home team 108-67 in the second half, including 59-29 in the third period.
Indiana has been almost surgical in its second-half defensive approach, extracting whatever problem Washington presents. This time, the Wizards had 18 fast-break points in the first half. They had none in the second. In Game 3, Washington had eight offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points at the break, and then went Chuck Woolery (two and two) in the second.
George played every bit of the second half and got big help from Roy Hibbert, who scored 15 of his 17 after intermission — and said afterward he was awakened by a vile heckler behind the bench — to extend his resurgence, but on a night when the bench produced just two points, Vogel had to lean more heavily on his stars.
“I mean, there was a moment where I was pretty gassed,” George said. “But that second wind kicked in. Once we started to build momentum, it seemed like I was not getting tired. I was just in a rhythm, and just carried that through the whole game. …
“I knew usually coach takes me out to give me a breather. (But) I knew every horn, that sound wasn’t someone coming to get me.”
George tied a franchise playoff record (shared by Reggie Miller and Chuck Person) by making seven 3-pointers, and also had 12 rebounds for his seventh double-double in 11 playoff games. This postseason, he is averaging 21.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.3 steals and 41.0 minutes.
“(The Wizards) played a terrific basketball game but sometimes you can be undone by a special performance and Paul George, what he did was special,” Vogel said. “That’s the only way to put it.”
After a quiet first half, Hibbert made plenty of noise in the second. He and George combined for 21 points in a 23-6 run bridging the second and third periods that wiped out a 68-51 deficit and pulled the Pacers into a 74-all tie.
The Wizards got a big lift from ex-Pacer Al Harrington, who scored 11 off the bench and helped spark a 9-0 counterpunch that put the home team up 83-74 with 7:51 remaining, but a couple of 3-pointers from George put that surge to rest and the defense took over from there.
After John Wall’s 3-pointer with 4:39 put the home team up 88-82, the Wizards would not make another bucket, missing their final eight shots. In the final two minutes, they managed a single free throw from four possessions.
George and Hibbert, meanwhile, scored the first 12 of the Pacers’ game-closing 13-4 run.
“He’s getting his mojo back,” David West said of Hibbert, who has scored more points in the last three games (59) than in his previous 13 combined (58).
As is George, who was 9-for-30 in the first two games of the series, but bounced back in a big way in Washington, totaling 62 points.
After one of the greatest playoff games in Pacers history, George was asked to rank his performance.
“Considering being down and the game not looking like it was not going to go our way, for the whole group, not myself, battling and just not panicking, this has to be one of our greatest wins,” he said, “because it was a collective effort.”
Even in the locker room afterward, he wasn’t too tired to come up with a deflection.