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Last updated: Thu. May. 29, 2014 - 01:02 pm EDT

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No hot air -- Indiana gets season-saving victory

George paces Pacers past the Heat

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Forget all that hot air about blowing up the Indiana Pacers and starting over.

The only thing that blew up Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was Miami's clinch-it-in-Indy hopes.

Indiana borrowed a page from the Heat's NBA championship playbook and defended as if its season depended on it.

Which, of course, it did.

Yes, much of the buzz from the Pacers' 93-90 survival test centered on LeBron James' foul troubles -- he played just half the game and totaled a playoff career-low seven points and two rebounds with his five fouls -- but that misses the point, which is the season ain't over. Indiana trails the best-of-seven series 3-2.

“We can't feel like it can't be done,” forward Paul George said. “Everybody in this organization has to feel we can accomplish this. We believe we can. It's going to be tough. It's one game at a time. That's how we have to treat it.”

Despite a second quarter that ranks among the worst in team playoff history, all the Pacers need is a Friday victory in Miami to regain home-court advantage and aim for a Sunday exclamation point to a roller-coaster postseason more dramatic than a Tolstoy novel.

“My message to the team,” coach Frank Vogel said, “was the light needs to be on green for all of us. You need to go. You need to attack. You need to be aggressive.”

No Pacer took that to heart more than George, the inconsistent superstar who for 45 minutes thrived as James couldn't.

He had 37 points (21 in the fourth quarter), six steals and six rebounds. His defense was the catalyst that rallied Indiana back from the brink of a playoff embarrassment.

“I asked myself, how can I impact this game where we can continue to keep playing?” he said. “That was it. I knew I had to make defensive plays, get some steals, play scrappy basketball and contribute on the offensive end. That was on my mind all night -- how can I be an impactful player for us?”

The answer -- play like a man possessed.

“Paul took (the be-aggressive message) and took it to a crazy level,” Vogel said.

Crazy was everywhere you looked. There was drama, clutch shooting, lucky shooting, in-your-face defense, ridiculous turnovers and, in a moment that bordered on the absurd, Lance Stephenson blowing in James' ear.

That is not a joke.

“I'm just here to play basketball, man,” James said. “All the extracurricular activities, I don't get into. I'm just trying to win. Whatever Lance wants to deal with, I don't care about that.”

Had he ever blown in someone's ear as a defensive tactic?

"I blew in my wife's ear before," he said with a smile. "That was definitely a defensive tactic."

Stephenson defended James so ferociously down the stretch he might have been arrested had he done it on the street. What he didn't do, as he had done before in the series, was talk his way into controversy.

“I just tried to take away his airspace,” Stephenson said. “Pressure him and not make him feel comfortable.”

Or, as Vogel put it, “Lance just competed. Nobody can stop or slow down LeBron. LeBron got out of rhythm because of foul trouble.”

Even without James, Miami gave itself a chance with team-record-matching three-point shooting. It was 15 for 31, with Rashard Lewis shooting beyond his pay grade by going 6-for-9 behind the arc.

“We wanted Rashard to be aggressive,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “As soon as it touches his hands, he's got to let it go. He's got an absolute neon green light. He's one of the best three-point shooters in the history of the game. We want him attacking his opportunities like that with a clear mind.”

It was certainly clear to Vogel.

“The threes they were making in the second half were ridiculous, but we were still able to prevail.”

If it wasn't basketball as art, well, the Pacers can live with that. Their approach was simple: punish the Heat inside with size. Specifically, attack with George, David West and, to a lesser extent, Roy Hibbert.

They combined for 66 points and 28 rebounds.

Indiana needed a strong start and got it, leading 22-16 after the first quarter. Then came a 26-11 second-quarter disaster. Miami led 42-33 at halftime, and everybody knew how badly this would end for the Pacers.

Except Indiana refused to let it happen.

It relishes its backs-against-the-wall tenacity, and if that will be tested to the limit in Miami, which is unbeaten at home in the playoffs, well, champions do what's necessary.

And that's no hot air.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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