By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Forty-five minutes after the final horn, David West sat in front of his locker-room stall, shirtless but still clad in the rest of his game gear. Out of the blue, the Indiana Pacers power forward pounded a fist into his other palm. “Damn!” he said to no one in particular.
Roy Hibbert trundled in from the shower a few minutes later. “It’s gonna be a lonnnng series,” the Pacers center said, and West nodded with a big “Uh huh.”
Then there was Paul George. Indiana’s All-Star wing player was sprawled in his chair, still icing his knees and maybe in need of another pack on the back of his head. George, scrambling for a loose ball, had gotten kneed in the head by Miami’s Dwyane Wade, a scary moment for both teams with 6:50 left and the Pacers up 73-69.
George wound up worse for the collision: He blacked out momentarily, lying still as his coaches and the team’s medical staff came onto the court in a timeout. Then – in something he revealed only after the game – he suffered from blurred vision right through the final horn.
“I mean, I blacked out as soon as it happened,” George said afterward. “And then, the whole four or five minutes, however much time was remaining, I was just blurry. My eyes was blurry. I just tried to play through it.”
According to a Pacers spokesperson, the medical staff asked George – on the court and over on the bench – all the questions that pertained to the NBA’s official concussion protocol. George said he had no symptoms, other than pain in the back of his head from the blow itself. He was cleared to return and played the remainder of the game, finishing without another field goal, making 1 of 2 free throws and turning over the ball with 3:05 left and his team down 80-75.
After talking of the blurry vision later – neither coach Frank Vogel nor Hibbert knew George had experienced the issue – George went through the evaluation process again. And again, the Pacers reported, he passed. But George will be evaluated further, probably as soon as Wednesday, prior to Game 3 Saturday in Miami.
“I’ve had a couple hits to the head,” Hibbert said, “so I hope he’s all right.”
Fortunately for Indiana, it’ll have 96 hours between games as the series shifts to south Florida, time for George to mend as needed, time for all of them to recover physically and mentally from an especially grueling and gut-wrenching outcome.
The Pacers had gone “all in” on Game 2, riding the starters for heavy minutes. Even though they were aware of the three-day break coming up, gutting out this one was more about the shot at 2-0 they had against the two-time defending champions and how that might have transformed the series.
Never in the four postseasons of Miami’s Big Three era have the Heat faced a two-game deficit in a best-of-seven series. Not 2-0, not 3-1. Pushing LeBron James, Wade and the rest that far, well, had the Pacers eager to see how they might have responded.
Instead, the series is 1-1, familiar terrain for the Heat; they have won four series – vs. Chicago in 2011 and 2013, vs. Oklahoma City in the 2012 Finals and vs. San Antonio in last year’s Finals – after dropping the opener.
And it was Indiana stuck with some unprecedented reality: this was the first time this postseason that the Pacers have lost after leading through three quarters (1-7) and only the fourth time in 58 such situations since the start of the regular season.
It also marked the third straight game in which the Pacers’ starters all scored in double figures. That’s not only their longest such streak all season, it’s not nearly the positive you might think: When your bench gives you just nine points on 3-for-13 shooting in a combined 38 minutes, you stick with the ones that brung you.
Mostly, that meant Lance Stephenson (27 points), who carried Indiana’s attack for much of the night until, y’know, James and Wade happened late. George, however, was 1-for-11 in the first half while coping with Wade as his primary defender rather than James. After halftime, he was just 3-for-5.
West had his own ordeal, from his 5-for-16 shooting to an eye poke that sent him to the locker room briefly after George’s collision. He, too, returned, but the fourth quarter wound up a disaster anyway: 36.8 percent shooting, a 12-6 rebounding shortfall, defensive breakdowns and two killer turnovers just as the Heat, on their 10-0 run, were catching and passing the Pacers.
“There was a two-minute stretch there where they turned us over and got buckets,” West said. “Ultimately, it doomed us.”
To a man, the Pacers denied that they were gassed down the stretch, bothered either by the actual minutes or the intensity of them.
“Nah, we were good,” George said. “We started the game off flat, as far as shooting-wise. We really struggled putting the ball in the hole. We got great looks. But for the whole game … I didn’t feel like I was worn out, I was tired, anything.”
Said Vogel: “I thought Lance was a little gassed during one stretch – that’s why I got him a quick blow and got some other people some touches. Paul George has got to guard LeBron. He’s got to stay in there when [James is] in there. So he might have been a little bit, but I thought everybody else looked OK.”
Now they’ve got three days to reset, to rest, practice and clear their heads before Game 3 and, in George’s case, to get cleared yet again. Unfortunately for him and the Pacers, the next time the doctor examines him, he’ll only be holding up one finger instead of two.