Paul George, Pacers defense shows up when it matters, Indiana lives to play another day

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The Indiana Pacers played with a real sense of desperation. Paul George played like the elite, Top 10 player he believes he is, Lance Stephenson was fully into the game and fully entertaining.

Well, they didn’t do that consistently all game, they are the Indiana Pacers after all.

But with LeBron James in foul trouble in the second half the Pacers stepped up and extended their defensive pressure, Paul George had 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting in the second half (the Heat defended him but George was 11-of-18 on contested shots), and Stephenson was blowing in LeBron James’ ear.

That was enough.

Barely. In the most entertaining game of this series and one of the more bizarre playoff games in years, the Indiana Pacers hung on to win 93-90 and take Game 5 on their home court. The Heat lead the series 3-2 and head home to Miami on Friday with the chance to close the series out.

For stretches of Game 5 the Pacers looked like the team that was elite the first half of the regular season. They gave Miami a dose of what the Heat gave them for the past three games — the Pacers extended their defensive pressure, forced turnovers that became transition buckets the other way, and generally played with great energy. More than they had all season.

That worked particularly well once LeBron picked up his second personal foul of the second half just more than three minutes in, giving him five and forcing coach Eric Spoelstra to sit him. Miami led at that point but an energized and desperate Pacers team went on a 16-2 run and by early in the fourth quarter their lead had swollen to 11.

Paul George’s star turn fueled a lot of that run — he got buckets, particularly hitting the difficult, contested shots that the Pacers have lacked much of the series. George finished with 37 points, he hit five threes, plus he had six steals. He looked every bit the All-Star. Everything he threw up seemed to go in.

And yet the Heat had their chances at the end.

That was really the story of the game.

From the opening tip Pacers were more aggressive on offense than we had seen since Game 1, attacking the rim and just with better ball movement. Behind that Indiana shot 50 percent — and grabbed the offensive rebound on half of their misses — to Miami’s 36.7 percent in the first quarter.

Yet it was just a six point game, 22-16 after one. Indiana didn’t create any separation. That came back to haunt them in the second quarter when Miami’s defense cranked up and once again the Pacers couldn’t handle the pressure on the ball. Their offense was just stumbling and ugly. Indiana scored just 11 points in the second quarter, shot 33 percent and had six turnovers. Meanwhile Ray Allen had 10 points in the second quarter, the Heat shot 58.8 percent.

It looked like the Pacers were in real trouble in this game when they were down 42-33 at the half and the Heat were +13 with LeBron on the bench.

But for the first time in a while Indiana showed some real resolve, played with desperation, they extended their defense (Miami shot 5-of-17 in the quarter) and that led to some better looks on offense off turnovers. Plus the Pacers just knocked down shots they had missed in the second quarter and the previous three games. Indiana won the third quarter 31-15 and lead by 7 entering fourth.

The lead got up to 11 but then Miami answered with a 9-0 run of their own, scoring 18 points on first 10 possessions of fourth quarter. Rashard Lewis was suddenly hot — he finished the game with 18 points on six made three pointers.

When LeBron tied the game with a pull up three, 81-81 with 3:45 left, it felt like the kind of situation Miami has won and Indiana has faltered this series.

But George and Stephenson wouldn’t let that happen. While George was hitting dramatic shots and engaged and energized (if not always focused) Stephenson did a good job defending LeBron. He wouldn’t let LeBron own the game.

Indiana hung on through a wild ending that included missed free throws and a Heat chance to tie at the buzzer.

It was a great game.

The kind we’d hoped this entire series would have been like. This Pacers team is fun to watch. I wish it would show up more often.