Roy Hibbert, Paul George

Pacers earn tough Game 4 victory to even series with Hawks


The Hawks had proven to be a bad matchup for these top-seeded Pacers, who came into Game 4 trailing two games to one and not really having a whole lot of answers.

Indiana had shown an inability to adjust, Roy Hibbert had been ineffective to the point where he’d been benched, and Atlanta was playing with a level of confidence that made you believe that one more win, and a commanding series lead along with it, wasn’t out of the question.

But the Pacers solved some of their problems on Saturday, coming away with a gritty 91-88 victory that was anything but easy, and reclaimed home court advantage by evening the series at two games apiece.

This was a game that required resiliency and sense of team to get the job done, and the Pacers battled back time and again in order to be able to succeed. Indiana saw an early eight-point lead erased before pushing it back to seven to end the first. They then scored just 13 second quarter points, and found themselves trailing by double digits just before halftime. The Atlanta lead was 10 midway through the third, before the Pacers fought back to tie it just a few short minutes later.

And in the fourth, Indiana was down by five with 4:37 to play, following a three-pointer by Jeff Teague that felt like it could have been a here-we-go-again moment, if only the Pacers had gone down that dark road once again.

There were sketchy possessions down the stretch from both teams, and it wasn’t a smooth ride. But back-to-back three-pointers from Paul George and David West put the Pacers up for good with just over two minutes remaining, and a drive from George Hill with 56 seconds left was the game’s final score.

Again, it was far from easy. When Indiana had a chance to seal it at the free throw line late, George missed two free throws that left the door open for a potential disaster. But a forced three from Pero Antic was missed on the final possession, and the end result will be all that matters for a Pacers team that was facing desperation.

What may be potentially even bigger than the victory is the chemistry that was apparent as the Pacers fought to stay alive. Hibbert didn’t play down the stretch for the second consecutive game, but was cheering wildly on the sidelines anytime his teammates made a positive play. Lance Stephenson was seen as the voice of reason at one point, trying to calm his teammates from celebrating too excessively after West’s huge three, knowing that there was plenty of work that still needed to be done.

George had the type of game that made us marvel at his skill set during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, finishing with 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and a couple of blocked shots, while shooting 10-of-18 from the field in almost 44 minutes of action.

This feels like a building block game for the Pacers, especially with two of the final three games of the series (if it should go seven) being played on their home floor. The league’s top defense during the regular season looked like it for extended stretches in this one, and the chemistry that was missing for the last two months appeared to return just in time to save Indiana’s season.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.