Paul George isn't ready to go fishin'.
The 24-year-old scored 21 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter and carried the Indiana Pacers to a thrilling 93-90 win Wednesday night to cut the Miami Heat's series lead to 3-2.
STILL ALIVE! Paul George puts Pacers on his back with 37 Pts, 6 Reb & 6 Stl in Pacers 93-90 win. pic.twitter.com/QsKDMwZWMd— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 29, 2014
As Frank Vogel told reporters after the game, via Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick, George's assertiveness was key:
Frank Vogel says he felt his team had "yellow light" mentality. Told them to have "green light" and Paul George "took it to a crazy level."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 29, 2014
And according to The Associated Press' Tim Reynolds, the result was the best offensive outburst in the second half of a postseason game in nearly a decade:
Paul George's 31 second-half points tonight were the most by anyone in a playoff game since Dirk Nowitzki had 33 vs. Phoenix on 6/1/06.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) May 29, 2014
Jared Wade of 8 Points 9 Seconds had more from George on his huge game:
Paul George: "I was in the zone … Regardless of who was guarding me, I felt like the ball was going in the net."— Jared Wade (@8pts9secs) May 29, 2014
Perhaps Stephenson's biggest contribution, though, was drawing a fifth foul during the third quarter on LeBron James, who played just 24 minutes and scored seven points.
Tonight was the fewest points in a playoff game for LeBron James in his career.— Ryan Feldman (@TheRyanFeldman) May 29, 2014
Stephenson further made noise by blowing in James' ear—seriously—but LeBron decided to take the high road after the game, via Reynolds:
LeBron: "Professionals, that's who we are. ... All that extra whatever Lance wants to do, I don't really care about that."— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) May 29, 2014
Chris Bosh (20 points, 10 rebounds), Dwyane Wade (18 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) and Rashard Lewis (18 points on six three-pointers) helped Miami stay close, but George was too much in the end.
James scored the first bucket of the game on an alley-oop from Mario Chalmers, but he didn't score again until the 7:05 mark of the fourth quarter. However, while the four-time MVP spent much of the first half in foul trouble en route to his worst two-quarter scoring output of the season, the Heat still led by nine at intermission, as SportsCenter noted:
LeBron has more fouls (3) than Pts (2). His lowest point total in ANY half all year, but Heat lead Pacers, 42-33. pic.twitter.com/LOjiab6l5V— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 29, 2014
That's because everyone around him stepped up.
Wade had eight points, four rebounds and four assists, Ray Allen and Lewis each hit a couple of threes and Bosh had nine points.
As USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt pointed out, the Heat were actually more productive without James in the lineup through the first two quarters:
With LeBron James off the floor for 13 minutes, 30 seconds in the first half, the Heat outscored the Pacers 30-13.— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) May 29, 2014
Of course, it also helps when the Pacers offense continues to resemble a flock of chickens with their heads cut off. Indiana was 5-of-15 shooting for a whopping 11 points in the second quarter and committed 11 first-half turnovers.
Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix said it was the worst Vogel's team has looked all postseason—which is really saying something—while NBA.com's Nate Duncan gave a look from a numerical standpoint:
Second quarter was some of the worst Pacers offense this postseason. No direction, everything seemed like it was coming at end of shot clock— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) May 29, 2014
42 poss for IND, 41 for MIA. 42-33 MIA at half. 102 Ortg for MIA, 79 for IND— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) May 29, 2014
It took James less than four minutes to pick up two more fouls, however, giving him five in the third quarter for the first time in his career, per ESPN Stats & Info.
This time, the Pacers took advantage.
Down 11 at one point, they amped up the defensive pressure and converted it into offensive production, ending the third quarter on a 23-7 run to take the 64-57 lead. An ability (or inability, in Miami's case) to take care of the ball was a major turning point, via NBA.com's John Schuhmann:
Pacers had 11 turnovers in the 1st half. None in 3rd Q so far. Heat now have more (13) for the game.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 29, 2014
James re-entered with 10:30 remaining, but George was locked in. After drilling a buzzer-beater to end the third, he hit another trey, converted two steals into fast-break dunks and propelled Indiana to an 11-point lead.
Schuhmann summed up Indiana's offensive turnaround:
Pacers have now scored on 20 of their last 24 possessions. I can't imagine they've done that all season.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 29, 2014
The Heat quickly chipped back into the lead, though, and James buried a three with 3:50 to go to tie things back up. But with every answer from Miami came a bigger one from George, who entered unconscious mode in the final minutes, hitting two massive threes to keep Indiana in the lead.
Jose 3030, via ESPN, gave a look at George's first- and second-half splits:
Paul George 1st & 2nd Half Stats tonight pic.twitter.com/0e25iarqwo— 3030 (@jose3030) May 29, 2014
Miami got a final possession down two, but Bosh missed a three-pointer to seal the win for Indiana. James elected to pass instead of take on Hibbert near the rim, which both he, via The Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser, and Erik Spoelstra, via Skolnick, were perfectly fine with:
LeBron: "We got a great look. C.B. makes that shot and we're headed back to the Finals for the fourth straight year."— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) May 29, 2014
Spoelstra on the last play: "We'll take that look."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 29, 2014
It's a little bittersweet for the Pacers moving forward. On one hand, they stayed alive and are now just one road win away from hosting a Game 7. Twenty-four hours ago, they would have taken that in a heartbeat.
But on the other far less optimistic hand, James just struggled through one of the worst games of his career, and Indiana barely escaped with the home W.
Who will win Game 6?
The NBA's best player won't see this kind of foul trouble and will assuredly bounce back for Game 6 on Friday. When he does, the Pacers are going to need 40-plus minutes of tonight's second-half George to have any chance of extending the series again.
Even then, it might not be enough if LeBron's teammates continue to provide the same kind of support.