Paul George scored 31 of his 37 points in the second half Wednesday night and almost single-handedly kept the Indiana Pacers alive in the Eastern Conference finals with a 93-90 victory over the Miami Heat.
The Pacers still trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 will be played Friday night in Miami.
It took a frantic effort just to extend the series, even with the foul-plagued LeBron James held to just seven points in 23 minutes. Chris Bosh led the Heat with 20 points missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
Indiana turned a 50-41 deficit into a 64-57 lead after three, then led by as much as 11 in the fourth. But Miami’s last-ditch rally made it 91-90 with 16 seconds to go before Indiana held on.
Miami failed to clinch its fourth straight Eastern Conference title.
The Pacers played like a desperate team trying to save their season. They chased shooters all over the floor, ran down loose balls, even put themselves in harm’s way. Lance Stephenson appeared to hurt his left shoulder in the third quarter after a hard fall and still finished the game.
But hard falls and tough plays were a theme all night for a team that had been roundly criticized for its lack of effort in Monday night’s loss.
“We just played. Our backs are against the wall right now so that’s all we can do,” George said. “We were in a position that if we lost this game, we’re going home so I think that was in the backs of everybody’s minds.”
Until George amped it up in the second half, it looked like the Heat would close out the series with a fourth straight win.
But unlike Game 2, when the Pacers couldn’t stop Dwyane Wade and James late, the Pacers fended off the closing charge from the two-time defending champs – barely.
George’s incredible ability to hit big shot after big shot and a defense that refused to give the lead away late eventually saved the Pacers, and only after they twice failed twice to take advantage of James’ absence in the first half. The Pacers finally figured it out midway through the third.
“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.”
Trailing 50-41 with 6:56 left in the third quarter, George started the comeback with a layup and ended the 11-0 run with a steal and dunk that gave Indiana a 52-50 lead with 3:54 left in the quarter. It was the first time Indiana led since 24-22.
Miami quickly tied it on Udonis Haslem’s layup.
Then the Pacers thought they had seized control. George hit a 3-pointer and Lance Stephenson drove in for a layup to make it 57-52, and when George hit a buzzer-beating 3 to end the third, the Pacers led 64-57.
Indiana extended the lead to as much as 77-66 when George followed another steal with a dunk.
But when James re-entered, Miami took off. The Heat scored nine straight to make it 77-75 and finally tied it at 81 on James’ only 3 of the night with 3:51 to play.
Indiana got a short bank shot from West and 20-foot jumper from George to make it 85-81. Bosh and Rashard Lewis, who had 18 points, each hits 3s in the final 1:16 to cut the lead to one, but George hit a 3 and David West made 1 of 2 free throws to seal it.
“It’s going to be a totally different ball game (in Miami),” George said. “But we have to rise to the challenge. It will be a fun matchup.”
Notes: George’s 21 fourth-quarter points were the most ever scored in one quarter of a playoff game against Miami. The previous best was 20 by Michael Jordan in May 1997. … Miami was plus-15 in the first half when James was on the bench. … Roy Hibbert had five rebounds in the first 6:42 after having only five in Game 4 and two in Game 3. … Indy native and 10-time Grammy Award winner Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds sang the National Anthem.
( Courtesy AP & NBA ……. Source ……… Our Freelance Sports Contributor in The United States)