Paul George scored 31 of his 37 points in the second half today as he almost single-handedly kept the Indiana Pacers alive in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals with a 93-90 victory over the Miami Heat.
The Pacers still trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. Game Six will be played on Friday night (local time) in Miami.
It took a frantic effort just to extend the series, even with the foul-plagued LeBron James held to just seven points in 23 minutes. Chris Bosh led the Heat with 20 points but missed a potential go-ahead three-pointer in the closing seconds.
Indiana turned a 50-41 deficit into a 64-57 lead after the third quarter and then led by as much as 11 in the fourth. But Miami's last-ditch rally made it 91-90 with 16 seconds to go before Indiana held on.
The Pacers played like a desperate team trying to save their season. They chased shooters all over the floor, ran down loose balls, even put themselves in harm's way. Lance Stephenson appeared to hurt his left shoulder in the third quarter after a hard fall and still finished the game.
But hard falls and tough plays were a theme all night for a team that had been roundly criticised for its lack of effort in their Game Four loss.
"We just played. Our backs are against the wall right now so that's all we can do," George said. "We were in a position that if we lost this game, we're going home so I think that was in the backs of everybody's minds."
Until George amped it up in the second half, it looked like the Heat would close out the series with a fourth straight win.
But unlike Game Two, when the Pacers couldn't stop Dwyane Wade and James late, the Pacers fended off the closing charge from the two-time defending champs - barely.
George's incredible ability to hit big shot after big shot and a defence that refused to give the lead away late eventually saved the Pacers, and only after they twice failed twice to take advantage of James' absence in the first half. The Pacers finally figured it out midway through the third.
"I just felt it. I felt in rhythm. I had to be aggressive," George said. "I tried to come out and be aggressive to start this game off and I was getting looks. I got hot."
Trailing 50-41 with 6:56 left in the third quarter, George started the comeback with a layup and ended the 11-0 run with a steal and dunk that gave Indiana a 52-50 lead with 3:54 left in the quarter. It was the first time Indiana led since 24-22.
Miami then quickly tied it on Udonis Haslem's layup.
Then the Pacers thought they had seized control. George hit a three-pointer and Lance Stephenson drove in for a layup to make it 57-52, and when George hit a buzzer-beating three to end the third with the Pacers 64-57 up.
Indiana extended the lead to as much as 77-66 when George followed another steal with a dunk.
But when James re-entered, Miami took off. The Heat scored nine straight to make it 77-75 and finally tied it at 81 on James' only three-pointer of the night with 3:51 to play.
Indiana got a short bank shot from West and a 20-foot jumper from George to make it 85-81. Bosh and Rashard Lewis, who had 18 points, each hit threes in the final 1:16 to cut the lead to one, but George hit a three and David West made one of two free throws to seal it.
"It's going to be a totally different ball game (in Miami)," George said. "But we have to rise to the challenge. It will be a fun matchup."
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