WASHINGTON – Paul George stood at the entrance to the press-conference room.
“Are they ready?” George asked as he buttoned his shirt.
Earlier in the night, George wasn’t so docile. Ready for him or not – and they sure didn’t appear to be – the Washington Wizards saw plenty of the Indiana Pacers star.
George scored 39 points – the most by an Pacer in a playoff game in eight years – and led Indiana to a 95-92 Game 4 win Sunday. Up 3-1 in the series, the Pacers are just one game from the Eastern Conference Finals and can qualify with a home win in Game 5 Wednesday.
Before the game, Indiana coach Frank Vogel offered Paul George a break from always guarding Bradley Beal, the Wizards leading playoff scorer. During the game, Vogel repeatedly offered to rest George.
George said no each time.
He played more than 46 minutes, sitting only for the final 1:37 of the first quarter.
“I hate not finishing off my assignment,” George said.
Now, the Pacers appear primed to finish the assignment most expected them to complete – returning to the conference finals and battling the Miami Heat there. Indiana’s road looked rocky late in the regular season and downright hazardous during a first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, but the Pacers keep doing just enough to overcome their self-inflicted adversity.
Sunday, Indiana trailed by 19 in the third quarter, briefly tied the game early in the fourth quarter and then trailed by nine with six minutes left. Does a comeback like that finally answer the questions surrounding the Pacers?
“Those are your guys’ questions,” Vogel said. “You guys can keep asking them or answering them. We never lost confidence in our group here, and tonight was indicative of why.”
That starts with George and Roy Hibbert, who has now contributed three straight quality performances with 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocks Sunday.
Until George Hill split a pair of free throws with six seconds left – leaving the Wizards a chance to tie on a 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds remaining that they bungled when Trevor Ariza threw the inbound pass out of bounds – George and Hibbert scored 18 straight Indiana points.
When Hibbert is steady, the Pacers stop underachieving. When George plays like this, their ceiling rises.
Nobody else on the roster can elevate Indiana like George. George, who scored a career-high 43 in Dec. 2013, is the only Pacer to score this much in any game in the last four years .
Sunday, he made 7-of-10 3-pointers, grabbed 12 rebounds and hounded Beal defensively while getting two steals.
“He’s made my job tough,” said Beal, who should be commended for still scoring 20 points on 14 shots.
Beal didn’t spend a second on the court without George also there, and the Washington guard rarely spent that time free of George.
Vogel praised George and David West for leading vocally, and George’s heavy workload backed up his words.
“There was a moment where I was pretty gassed,” George said. “But that second wind kicked in. Once we started to build momentum, it seemed like I wasn’t tired.”
Tired of the Pacers and their brand of defense-first, slow-the-pace basketball? Get over it, They’re almost definitely headed back to the Eastern Conference Finals to play foil to the popular Heat.
And they’re in this position thanks to to George.
“What he did tonight was special,” Vogel said. “There’s no other way to put it.”