With their backs against the wall and their roller coaster season in peril in front of their hometown crowd, Paul George stepped up and played like a bona fide superstar for the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 to beat the Miami Heat, 93-90, and live to fight another game.
After compounding his team’s devastating Game 4 loss with his “home cooking” comments toward officiating at the post-game presser that garnered him a $25,000 fine from the league, George did his talking on the court Wednesday night (Thursday, Manila time) by scoring 37 points (31 in the second half), 6 rebounds and 6 steals to keep the Pacers’ season alive and the media off his back.
The 24-year-old kid from Palmdale, California surely would’ve been an easy target had he not responded the way he did in Game 5 after his reckless rantings after Game 4 in Miami. Instead, George took on all the negative publicity then carried the Pacers on his back in his best all-around game of the series thus far.
“I knew we were facing elimination. Coach told me ‘green light, stay on green’ and D West kept on telling me ‘don’t keep no bullets in the chamber’ so I just really came out firing,” George said at the post-game press conference.
George also did most of his damage when it mattered most, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter, while picking the Heat’s pockets three times in the process, which he then turned into emphatic breakaway finishes. Big shot after big shot, George provided the answers for the Pacers each time the two-time defending champs threatened to turn the tide their way. George went 8-10 from the field in the final 12 minutes, and was 3-5 from beyond the 3-point line.
Asked whether his controversial comments after Game 4 pushed him to have the kind of performance he did in Game 5, George acknowledged and pleaded for officials to allow players to just play. “I like to just play. Let us play - it’s the Conference Finals. Let everything just be left on the floor, and I knew I had to step to the plate,” said the two-time All-Star.
David West also provided support for the the Pacers and scored the other eight points in the fourth as he and George scored their team’s last 36 points of the game. Another thing both George and West did at the end of the game, however, was leave the game open by missing a couple of crucial free throws, which almost allowed Chris Bosh to knock down a potentially game-winning 3-pointer with 4 seconds left in the game.
It was an ugly, grind-it-out game which played to the Pacers’ style. It also did not help the Heat’s cause that their best player, LeBron James, was in foul trouble for majority of the game and finished with only seven points in only 24 minutes of playing time.
Tasked to shadow James for most of the series, not having to expend as much energy guarding the Heat's best player definitely allowed George to focus more on his offense. But if he intends to send the series back to Indianapolis for Game 7 on Sunday, George simply can't afford another letdown. The Pacers are 4-0 this postseason each time George scored 27 points or more, and are only 2-5 when he failed to break the 20-point barrier.
With the series shifting back to South Beach on Friday and the possibility of calls not going their way anew, George will need to keep walking the walk and - together with his team - be done with all the talk, especially toward officials. The Pacers definitely do more than enough on their own (as they did tonight) to lose games even when the calls go their way. - DG