The Indiana Pacers are looking more like the team that took the East by storm the first few months of the 2013-14 season. After their latest playoff win, All-Star Paul George appears to be the biggest reason for their success.
In Game 4 of Indiana's conference semifinals series against the Washington Wizards, George scored 39 points (12-of-20 FG, 7-of-10 3FG, 8-of-10 FT) and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead his team to a 95-92 win. The Pacers now hold a 3-1 series lead heading into Tuesday's Game 5 in Indianapolis and are one victory away from a return trip to the Eastern Conference finals. After playing middling basketball for the last six weeks of the regular season and nearly falling to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, the East's top seed is getting closer to the form that made them a title contender.
The Pacers looked on their way to a series-tying loss for much of Game 4. At halftime, the Wizards led 55-38, with John Wall completing an amazing behind-the-back buzzer-beater to close out the first half:
That lead reached 19 points after Nene scored to open the second half, but the Pacers quickly rebounded. Winning the third quarter 33-17, Indiana got that margin down to one point by the end of the period. This and-one basket from the reborn Roy Hibbert was part of the comeback:
But George, an All-NBA first team candidate for much of the season, was the clear star of the show. This tough three-point play brought the Pacers even with 10:30 left in regulation:
The Wizards got their lead back up to as many as nine points later in the quarter, but George refused to let the Pacers lose. Scoring 28 of his 39 points in the second half, he dominated proceedings. This 3-pointer (after which he failed to complete the four-point play) helped spur the comeback:
The Pacers are not necessarily back to being one of the elite teams in the league, but there are some signs they're on their way. With George playing like a star and Hibbert (17 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) producing again, the Indiana starting lineup is once again one of the best units in the league. It's telling the Pacers' biggest issue in this game was a familiar one — their bench was so bad it nearly gave the Wizards control of the game with one early second-quarter run. For as great as George played, he still finished with a plus-minus of zero because he played with this group.
This series is not yet over, and the Wizards have played the Pacers well enough that it's not crazy to think they could win three straight to move on to the next round. Nevertheless, the Pacers have shown enough improvement to inspire some confidence. Their resilience demands some praise.
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