Paul George Steps Up to Plate, Homers

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by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 29, 2014 | 2:04 AM

Paul George had opened his mouth following the Pacers' loss at Miami on Monday, complaining about the officiating, claiming his team had “outplayed” the Heat despite their 12-point loss but had been victimized by a “home cooking” brand of officiating.

The controversy and criticism generated by those comments demanded an oncourt rebuttal, and George delivered it Wednesday when the Pacers avoided elimination with a 93-90 victory over the Heat in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

George scored 37 points, 21 in the fourth quarter, and added six steals to bring the Pacers back from an 11-point third-quarter deficit with an uneven but wildly entertaining performance that kept Bankers Life Fieldhouse on edge.

“I like to just play,” George said. “Let us play. It's the conference finals. Let everything just be left on the floor. I knew I was going to have to step up to the plate.”

George stepped up and hit home runs to hold off the Heat, who threatened until the final possession despite getting just 24 minutes and 21 seconds and seven points out of LeBron James, who missed half the game because of foul trouble. George hit 5-of-10 three-pointers in the second half, three-of-five in the fourth quarter when he and David West combined to score all 29 of the Pacers' points.

George hit two three-pointers in the final 3:11 of the third period, one that gave the Pacers a three-point lead less than five clock minutes after they had trailed by 11, and another at the buzzer over James to provide a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

He took over in the fourth, hitting 8-of-10 shots to set a personal record for points in a quarter. He hit turnaround jumpers, he hit pull-up jumpers, he hit driving layups, he got two breakaway dunks off his steals in Miami's halfcourt, and he added three-of-five three-pointers. All of that was barely enough to overcome the Heat, who likely would have won the game if Chris Bosh had hit a three-point attempt from the right corner with 4.9 seconds remaining off James' drive and kickout.

George's offense has come and gone in this series – in the entire postseason, for that matter. Twenty-four points in Game 1 against Miami on 7-of-13 shooting. Fourteen points in Game 2 on 4-of-16 shooting. Seventeen points in Game 3 on 5-of-13 shooting. Twenty-three points in Game 4 on 8-of-16 shooting.

He had six points at halftime of Wednesday's game after a scoreless second quarter, but came back with the most meaningful half of basketball in his NBA career.

“Coach told me 'green light – stay on green,'” George said. “D. 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.”

George's offense might have been assisted by James' foul trouble. Even when James played, George often guarded Dwyane Wade or someone else.

“We gave him a break, even if it was for a possession or two, which helped his legs late in the game when had to make some tough, tough threes,” West said.

George, however, doesn't consider defending Wade a break, and said he and Lance Stephenson took turns with their assignments, depending which side of the floor James and Wade were playing.

George definitely had James on the Heat's final possession, when James got a half-step on him on a drive to the basket, only to be cut off by Roy Hibbert, who forced the pass to Bosh for the missed three-pointer. That play preserved the value of George's performance, rather than rendering it futile.

“I was asked earlier today about having my print on the this game, and I felt I need to have a print on this game,” he said. “So that was always in the back of my mind, how can I impact this game where we can continue to keep playing?

“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.”

For all the criticism directed at George about his comments related to the officiating in Monday's loss in Miami, they might have been worth the $25,000 fine he received from the NBA. The Pacers attempted 22 foul shots on Wednesday (hitting just nine) while Miami got up eight – the fewest by a Pacers' opponent in the franchise's postseason history.

It doesn't figure to be like that on Friday, when the Pacers take another shot at keeping their crazy season alive.

“It's going to be tough,” he said. “We're not expecting any of this to be easy, this whole trip. We've got to do one possession at a time down in Miami, and we can't turn the ball over in Game 6.

“This Game 6 is going to be about performing like champions.”

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