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.
As Frank Vogel told reporters after the game, via Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick, George's assertiveness was key:
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:
Jared Wade of 8 Points 9 Seconds had more from George on his huge game:
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.
Stephenson further made noise by blowing in James' ear—seriously—but LeBron decided to take the high road after the game, via Reynolds:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.