Fast breaks from the Pacers’ latest episode of survivor, a 93-90 victory over Miami in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse:
>> After the morning shootaround, Paul George acknowledged he had not left an imprint on this series, a troubling development for the Pacers’ best player. Suffice to say he has now made his mark. He scored 37 points, 31 in the second half, 21 in the fourth quarter, adding six rebounds and six steals.
All 31 of those second-half points came after James picked up his fifth foul with 8:34 left in the third quarter and Miami leading 45-37. His consecutive 3-pointers made it 91-87 with 46 seconds left, which turned out to be just enough of a cushion.
“I felt I needed to have a print on this game, so that was in the back of my mind, ‘How can I impact this game where we can continue to keep playing?’” George said. “That was it. I knew I had to make some plays on the defensive end, getting steals, playing scrappy basketball, as well as trying to contribute on the offensive end.”
George scored more points in the second half (31) than in any of the Pacers’ previous six playoff games. After going 3-for-9 and missing all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half, George was 12-for-19 in the second, going 5-for-10 from the arc. In the fourth quarter, he shot 8-for-10, including 3-for-5 from the 3-point line.
>> It was a remarkable second-half turnaround for the Pacers, who managed a playoff-low 33 points while falling behind by nine at the break. With James on the bench in foul trouble for all but 70 seconds of the second quarter, Miami outscored the home team 26-11, and it certainly looked like the Heat was well on its way to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year.
“I thought our whole team had a little bit of a yellow-light mentality and got hesitant a little bit when we got down,” Frank Vogel said. “My message to the whole team was the light needs to be on green for all of us. You need to go. You need to attack. You need to be aggressive. Paul took it and ran with it to a crazy level.”
The Pacers scored 37 points in the game’s first 28 minutes, with George and David West combining for 10. Those two combined for 46 of the team’s 56 points thereafter – including the final 36 – as the Pacers survived to force Game 6 Friday in Miami.
>> There should be no more complaints, at least from Indiana’s locker room, about he officiating. At least two of James’ fouls were borderline at best, and the Pacers outshot the Heat 22-8 from the line, bringing their advantage in the three home games to 74-41. It’s reasonable to question exactly why the Pacers want to go to the line, given their 59 percent conversion Wednesday night, including three misses in the final 15 seconds to leave the door to disaster wide open.
>> With the Pacers up 92-90 in the closing seconds, James drove right through that door but rather than finish at the rim for a tie, he kicked out to Chris Bosh, who missed a corner three. All things considered, going for the win on the road was the right play for James, given his foul trouble and the one-shot opportunity to advance.
“LeBron is the smartest player in the league. He’s going to make the right play and he thought that was the right play,” George said. “They made 15 threes tonight so obviously, they were hot behind the 3-point line. He found a 3-point shooter that’s been hot lately for them in Chris Bosh. We were fortunate he missed.”
>> At least some of James’ problems could be chalked up to agent provocateur Lance Stephenson, who made it his mission to attach himself defensively, trailing his man all over the floor, staying under his chin, leaving him no room to make a move without some kind of contact. At one point, Stephenson blew in James’ ear as the two were setting up for an inbounds play in the fourth quarter. James just smiled and shook his head. Stephenson didn’t show up much in the box score (12 points, five rebounds, five assists) but his defiant disposition was critical to the Pacers’ survival.
Stephenson painstakingly avoided anything resembling bulletin-board material afterward, but Vogel summed up his performance nicely: “He just competed.”
>> Heat coach Erik Spoelstra took a huge risk leaving James in the game after he picked up his fourth foul 21 seconds into the second half. Three minutes later, the roll of the dice came up snake-eyes as James earned his fifth holding Stephenson as the two battled for a loose ball. The Pacers outscored the Heat 33-17 in James’ absence to take a 70-62 lead they would not relinquish. James wound up scoring a postseason career-low seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
>> Though it certainly was a feel-good moment for the Pacers, it should be noted they barely won despite George’s epic outburst, and Miami barely lost despite getting virtually nothing from James. If Indiana needs George to outscored James by 30 (37-7) just to scrape by, that does not bode well for Game 6.
>> Miami had never lost a Game 5 when leading a series 3-1 in the Big Three era (going 7-0), while the Pacers had never won a Game 5 when trailing 3-1. … The Pacers are 3-0 when facing elimination elimination this postseason, including the last two games against the Hawks in the first round. … This was just the second playoff game in James’ career in which he failed to score in double figures (he scored eight at Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals).