VIDEO: Heat vs. Pacers: Game 5
INDIANAPOLIS – We were ready to bury the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, and through the first 24 minutes of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, they were helping us dig the hole.
They couldn’t take advantage of LeBron James‘ foul trouble, couldn’t capitalize on an ugly first quarter from the Miami Heat. Their own second quarter was much more brutal, with more turnovers (seven) than made shots (five). They were dropping passes, throwing passes away, and even committing a rare double-dribble violation.
It was the Mr. Hyde side of the Pacers that we’d seen all too often in the last three months. And it was about to send them fishing in the figurative (rather than the literal) sense. The Heat had a rather mediocre first half offensively (42 points on 41 possessions) and still led by nine, with a rested James coming back for the second half.
But then he picked up his fourth foul just 81 seconds into the third quarter and his fifth with 8:34 on the clock. If was the first time in his career that he had been called for five fouls before the end of the third quarter. He sat for the next 10 minutes of game time.
And finally, the Pacers took advantage. Starting with the possession before James’ fifth foul, they scored 42 points in a 12-minute span to turn a 10-point deficit into an 11-point lead. And they held on for a 93-90 victory to send the series back to Miami for Game 6 on Friday.
They attacked the basket, they attacked the glass, and they turned defense into offense. With James on the bench, Paul George turned into the two-way superstar he looked like at times in last year’s conference finals.
Offensively, he took advantage of smaller defenders in the post and drained five 3-pointers. Defensively, without having to worry about defending James, he jumped into passing lanes and made the Miami offense look a lot like the Indiana offense has looked over the last few games.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra‘s quote regarding the Pacers’ defense could have been something Indiana coach Frank Vogel said about the Heat after Game 3 or 4.
“They stepped up their pressure, as you would anticipate they would in front of their crowd,” Spoelstra said. “Once they got us into a couple of sloppy possessions, their energy picked up.
“We have to do a better job about it. We know that getting shots is one of the most important keys to the series for us.”
While the Pacers committed just two turnovers in the second half, the Heat committed nine, with George turning four steals into three dunks.
“Forced turnovers get easy buckets,” Vogel said. “Then half-court gets a little bit easier because you’ve seen the ball go in.”
The ball went in a lot. After scoring just 35 points on their first 46 possessions of the game (76 per 100), the Pacers scored 58 on their last 39 (149 per 100), shooting 21-for-37 (57 percent) over the final 21 minutes.
Still, the game was tight in the final few. And down the stretch, George kept his team ahead by hitting three contested jumpers (one two and two 3s). James was back on the floor, but George had long ago found his rhythm.
“Coach told me, ‘Green light. Stay on green,'” George said afterward. “[David] West kept telling me, ‘Don’t keep no bullets in the chamber.’ So I really just came out firing. My teammates found me and I got hot.”
He finished with 37 points, six rebounds and six steals, shooting 15-for-28. Thirty-one of the 37 came in the second half, and 21 of those came in the fourth quarter. Through the first four games of this series, the burden of defending the best player in the world and playing like a star offensively had been too much for George. And after Game 4, he was more concerned about the officiating than his five sloppy turnovers.
But with a little help from the whistles, George was free to spread his wings in Game 5.
“My message to the whole team was the light needs to be on green for all of us,” Vogel said. “You need to go. You need to attack. You need to be aggressive. Paul took it and ran with it and took it to a crazy level.”
Here’s the thing: George played the best game of his life. James played 24 minutes and shot 2-for-10. Indiana had a 22-8 edge in free-throw attempts. And the Heat still had a chance to win on Chris Bosh‘s 3-point attempt with five seconds left.
It missed, the Pacers survived and are 3-0 when facing elimination in these playoffs. But the next one will be the toughest of the lot. They’ll either need more from George, more from everybody else, or a little more luck with the whistles.
“We’re going against history,” George said, “but we can’t feel like it can’t be done.”