For 25 minutes the Indiana Pacers faced their own bleak future of a lost season and a dreary summer. Nothing they did on the court worked only because nothing much was different. Their size was neutralized by the Heat’s trapping on the perimeter. Their chemistry was neutralized by their own fractured bonds. Their offense was neutralized-well that was the easy part. Double Paul George and David West and Lance Stephenson is all that is left. The Pacers were casual and calm, playing not to lose which only meant they were losing. They were spectators. The Pacers orchestrated the same terrible (familiar) offense, and so-so defense that created the deficit in the first place. And then someone hit them over the head with a two by four: WAKE UP! Midway through the third quarter they double teamed, they had active hands, they moved the ball, they chased down rebounds, in essence they played desperate. In doing so the Pacers erased a 10 point Miami Heat lead. Of course the Pacers were helped by the hand of God when Lebron James got his fifth foul and was exiled to the bench for the rest of the quarter. He had a career low 7 points.
As dynamic as the third quarter was for the Pacers, as it kept their season alive, it was also a stretch that brought to the surface, once again, what is really wrong with the Pacers. They succumb to a virus that is self infected. They go through the motions, they give up on one another, they get caught up in their own small dramas. And then they remember why they are in the arena: they are about to be eliminated and humiliated on their home court. It is not the mindset of a champion. But then who said the Pacers were champions? All playoffs long the Pacers have excelled at climbing out of holes, at struggling through adversity. And so it was at the end of the third quarter that Paul George, who had been a murky figure up to that point, a no-show in the first half, hit a deep three to give the Pacers a 7 point lead.
But Lebron James came back in the fourth. And so did the Pacers inept offense. They jacked up threes and Miami created off the dribble and got to the rim and a 11 point lead was now a 2 point lead after a 9-0 Heat run. The Pacers are such an enigma, such a cautionary tale of team chemistry gone wrong, no one knows what to expect in a close game, perhaps their last of the season. This is what they did: Paul George hit a midrange. Paul George went to the line and made two free throws. George Hill missed a three. David West hit a running bank. Paul George hit a 18 footer with the clock running down. Paul George hit a three. Paul George hit a three with 46 seconds left. George Hill gets his shot blocked on a spectacular Lebron James chase down.
Within a span of fifteen seconds the Pacers missed three free throws, two by David West, one by Paul George. They made two free throws by David West. Miami missed a three which would have clinched the series. Paul George was terrific in the second half, 31 points and he carried his team to the finish line.