It was a difficult road to victory, but the Indiana Pacers managed to extend their season another two days by defeating the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers fought, they rolled over, and then they fought again, surviving 15 Heat three pointers, seeing LeBron James in deep foul trouble, and getting a classic performance from Paul George.
The Pacers came out with a purpose early, George scoring six early points and cleaning up the glass, using a 10-3 run to push ahead 18-10. James would exit the game seconds later after picking up his second foul in the quarter, with Indiana maintaining their eight point cushion until Dwyane Wade hit a jumper to end the quarter, to draw Miami to within six at 22-16.
Wade went on to score eight of MIami's next 10 points, with the Heat going on a 17-2 run to put Miami on top 31-24. Indiana had five turnovers in the run before James picked up his third foul on a charge call. Despite James going to the bench for the final six minutes of the half, Indiana was unable to capitalize. They fought to within two, but a 9-2 barrage to end the half put Indiana down 42-33 at the break.
The second quarter Pacers were the polar opposite of the first quarter Pacers. The energy and urgency disappeared in the face of Miami's defense, with the Heat winning the second quarter 26-11. Things weren't much better for the Pacers early in the third quarter, having only trimmed a point off the lead before a big steal by Lance Stephenson forced a loose ball scrum between he and James, setting up James with his fifth foul at the 8:33 mark of the third.
The Heat once again managed to extend their lead without James, Rashard Lewis, having a ridiculous night shooting the ball, hit a three to push Miami up 48-37. Indiana, trailing 50-41, finally keyed in thanks to George, sparking a 16-2 run that put Indiana ahead 57-52. The Pacers played strong defensively, forcing five Heat turnovers in the quarter, and capitalizing for easy buckets.
While the Pacers finally took the lead, they did so despite horrendously poor free throw shooting. Indiana was just 2-8 from the line halfway through the third. They would hit their next nine, but those early misses had potential to haunt Indiana late. George hit a three pointer to close the third to complete a 31-15 third quarter. Indiana, who had just 33 first half points, came out firing with 31 points in the third quarter as part of a 16 point turnaround.
George had nine quick points in the early stages of the fourth quarter to help push Indiana ahead 77-66, their biggest lead of the night. But James and Wade would return, trimming the lead to two on a 9-0 run. With Indiana up 77-75, the game escalated. The Heat would make five field goals in the final 6:22 of the game, but all five were three pointers, keeping the heat on the Pacers throughout the rest of the game.
But with every three point dagger the Heat threw in, the Pacers, namely George, came through in a big way. With two minutes remaining, Lewis hit his fifth three of the night to trim Indiana's lead to a single point at 85-84. George was there to respond with a big three pointer to push the lead back to four, but Chris Bosh once again cut the lead to one with a three of his own.
Paul George's night reached its apex on the following possession. A missed three turned into an offensive rebound from Roy Hibbert, who got the ball to George. As Frank Vogel tried to get a time out to help set up his frenetic offense, George drilled a corner three to once again make it a four point game. With 30 seconds remaining, Bosh missed his next three point attempt.
Hibbert would come up with the rebound as the ball wound up in the hands of George Hill who went in for a dagger layup. But it was blocked by James, darting towards the basket, giving possession back to the Heat, who found Lewis for his sixth three point attempt to once again bring Miami to within a single point with 16 seconds remaining. After an out of bounds review and a dead ball foul, Indiana's free throw shooting came back to haunt them as George would miss his free throw attempt.
Possession remained with the Pacers, finding West, who would go onto split his own free throw trip, setting up the Heat with a chance to win with 12 seconds remaining. James found Bosh in the corner for three, his miss rebounded by Hibbert and sealing Indiana's 93-90 victory. The Pacers outscored Miami 60-48 in the second half, which was a surprise given how poorly they looked in the second quarter.
There was absolute concern for a Pacers team that continued to play poorly despite numerous expectations for them to finally piece something tangible together to salvage something out of this series. But trailing 42-33, scoring just 11 points in the second quarter, not taking advantage of LeBron James's foul trouble, and coming up with 11 turnovers leading to 12 Miami points made up a bulk of the laundry list of woes that almost assuredly looked like Indiana's final night of the season.
But it was Paul George's night in the second half. George had 31 second half points, completely in the zone, shooting 13-20 in the half to guide Indiana towards the win. In the fourth quarter alone, George had 21 points on 8-10 shooting with three three pointers. Regardless of where this series goes in Game 6 in Miami, George found himself a signature outing; a do or die showcase that either turned Indiana's season around or was simply a stay of execution.
Not only was George locked in offensively, he made a big impact defensively as well. He was certainly aided by James's foul trouble, not having to chase him around for 48 minutes, though he claimed guarding Wade was the taller task tonight due to his team high 20. George had six steals though, four in the second half, leading to six easy transition points for George.
It was a rare night that Indiana won the turnover battle, forcing 17 Miami turnovers, including nine in the second half, while Indiana was almost squeaky clean, committing just two second half turnovers. Indiana won points off turnovers 21-14, going 11-2 in the second half. James had a career playoff low of just seven points, shooting 2-10, including a fair share of airballs that seemed to end up right in the hands of Bosh for an easy put back.
Without James, the life blood of Miami's offense rested on their three point shooting. Despite allowing 60 second half points, 37 from George, and sloppy second half play, Miami was still right in position to win the game thanks to their three point shooting. Miami hit 15 on the night, seven in the fourth quarter. If not for George's shot making abilities late, it's very possible Indiana loses in the face of Rashard Lewis's 18 points on six threes.
The overall effort of Indiana fluctuated from the first to second half, but David West provided some consistent play in the second half to help Indiana towards the win. He had 19 on the night on 7-11 shooting, taking advantage of his mismatches tonight much better than he has throughout this series, making Shane Battier and Michael Beasley short term solutions for the Heat.
George Hill was one of the only Pacers to put forth a whole night of wall-to-wall effort despite being the only Pacers starter not in double figures. Actually, only six Pacers scored tonight. Luis Scola had six quality points off the bench, all in the second quarter. Roy Hibbert was quiet offensively with a less than stellar 4-11 shooting night, but was a beast on the glass, coming up with 13 boards, six on the offensive side as part of 16 Indiana offensive rebounds.
Besides the play of George and the lack of playing time from James, the discussion of the game will certainly be weighed heavily on Lance Stephenson, who despite just 4-11 shooting himself, won the Internet Award in the Field of Excellence with his pestering of James. Not only did he draw the fifth foul on James in the third quarter, but took the task of exploited James's already present tentativeness with various antics, including the meme triumph of blowing in James's ear.
James and Wade were quick to dismiss Stephenson's antics after the game, but he was able to make an impact in tonight's game with his play and his mischief. Whether it will cost him in Game 6 as it did in Game 4, what's important tonight is what it did to help his team win. Every little bit counts in an elimination game and the Pacers move to 3-0 in elimination games this postseason.
Their toughest test of the series will come on Friday night when Indiana travels back to Miami for Game 6. A lot of what happened tonight won't be replicated; whether it be George's play, James's foul trouble, or Miami's shooting, but new storylines will be created with the two teams tipping off on Friday night. It's proven impossible to figure out how Indiana will respond to anything, whether it be game to game, quarter to quarter, or minute to minute, but they'll be facing the most difficult challenge against a Miami team that will surely be locked in defensively and offensively in Game 6.