The bench that had been so productive late in the season abandoned him in Game 5, and his All-Star has played at an All-Star level throughout the series.
So, with the season having finally reached a must-win game, does Frank Vogel abandon his bench while draining every possible tick of the clock from his All-Star? Or does he offer second chances?
Vogel, understandably, was short on answers after practice on Thursday, given that heading into Game 6 of a playoff series when your team is down 3-2 isn't exactly the time to lay out your game plan for the world to see. But it seems safe to assume George will get all the action he can handle when the Pacers play Toronto on Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Could George play all 48 minutes?
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"If necessary," Vogel said following Thursday's practice. "We'll see tomorrow night."
Does Vogel wish he had played George all 48 in Game 5 in Toronto, when the Pacers lost a 13-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and gave up six quick points before he returned with 8 ½ minutes left?
"No," Vogel said quickly. "I thought we handled it the right way."
George, who is averaging 28.8 points on 47 percent shooting over 37.8 minutes in the series, isn't making demands, but he's willing to go all the way, if necessary. He was calm, quiet and serious when speaking with the media on Thursday, seemingly ready for anything.
"If that's the direction the game is going, I'm all for it," he said. "Whatever we have to do to win."
Vogel took a barrage of criticism in social media circles and from certain media outlets for "only" playing George 41 minutes in Tuesday's loss in Toronto, given how the team collapsed in the second and fourth quarters when he wasn't on the court. George, though, directed the blame toward teammates who didn't perform up to expectations.
"Both times he took me out we were in the driver's seat, looking comfortable, up 15, up 13 … we're supposed to do our job and maintain that lead," George said. "We didn't know the game was going to go that direction."
Which brings up the issue of the Pacers' bench. Does Vogel offer another chance to the likes of Rodney Stuckey, Ty Lawson and C.J. Miles, who have struggled throughout most of the series, and mightily so in Game 5? It's his practice to stick with players through difficult stretches, to give confidence, to offer hope, and most of them were performing well late in the season.
But this is an elimination game.
The Pacers' bench has clearly influenced the series. It has combined for a hugely favorable plus-minus total in the Pacers' two victories, and a hugely unfavorable one in the three losses. It was outscored by 41 points in Game 5, by 45 in Game 3 and by 24 in Game 2. Stuckey, Miles and Lawson are veteran players, though, and Lawson in particular has a solid playoff resume.
What's a coach to do?
"I can't tell you that," Vogel said when asked how he'll handle his reserves on Thursday, again not wanting to reveal game strategy. "We'll see tomorrow night."
Vogel added, however, that he hasn't given up on anyone.
"Very confident in those guys," he said. "And we're going to need them."
The only thing clear from Thursday's practice was that the Pacers remain upbeat. That's been their norm after their ugliest losses during the season, when the outside world was giving up on them. They dominated the second-seeded Raptors in Game 4 at Bankers Life and all but a quarter-and-a-half in Game 5, so they can draw confidence from that, too.
From their point of view, it's just a matter of finishing the job.
"We knew it was going to be a long series and everything doesn't always go the way you want it to go," Ian Mahinmi said. "We have a good group of guys. We have a really good team and we believe in ourselves."
"We know we can beat them," Monta Ellis said.
"We feel like we have a good idea of what we have to do to beat this team," Vogel said. "We have to do it for 48 minutes."
Whether George is in the game or not.
The remaining issue is how George approaches Friday's game. He said late in the season, after the Pacers had lost homecourt games to Chicago and Orlando, that he would go back to being the player who was selected the NBA's Player of the Month in November and try to put the team on his back. That worked. After the Pacers lost Games 2 and 3 of this series, however, he said he was going to put more trust in his teammates. That worked, too, at least in Game 4.
What does he do now? Does he carry his teammates or trust them?
"I'll have to see how the game goes," he said. "I'm going to come out and be aggressive and look to get going early. At the same time, it's on everybody to get this one."
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