Paul George did his part, matching his playoff career high with 39 points and adding eight assists, but he watched game five slip through the Indiana Pacers’ fingers during his brief spells on the bench.
In his absence, Indiana fell apart, and George called for the Pacers’ second unit to raise their game after they were outscored 13-1 at the start of the second quarter and 6-0 before his return early in the fourth quarter.
While Indiana was +15 with George on the floor, reserves CJ Miles and Ty Lawson were -19 and -18, respectively.
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“I’m not about putting guys down but individually everyone has to bring it,” George explained. “Yes [the second unit has been bringing it], but this is another level. There’s another level that they’ve got to take it to.
“It’s awful to have a chance to win on the road, go up 3-2 and go back home. But once again, we didn’t live up to the moment. We’ve got to do that in game six.”
BLOWING THE LEAD
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel even admitted that he considered not bringing his reserves back at the start of the fourth quarter after their earlier frailties, but he gave them another chance with Indiana holding a comfortable lead. That lead disappeared in a hurry, raising questions about why Vogel did not leave George in the game.
“He looked pretty gassed at the end of the third quarter,” Vogel countered. “We had a decent lead and I thought we could hold it.”
Was George tired? “Yeah, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from being ready and prepared,” the Pacers star added.
George also pointed to his team’s nerves in the fourth quarter. “I thought we played a little nervous, a little tight and on our heels. We didn’t finish plays around the basket well enough.
“But there’s just one stat [that popped out in the box score] – nine points in the fourth quarter. That’s all you’ve got to look at."
But George was also determined not to dwell on game five.
“We’ve got to put this one away. [Game six] is a new game, a new day. It’s a must win."
While George will likely take little comfort in his personal performance, he torched the Raptors for the first three quarters before managing just one basket in the final frame.
“I felt good,” he explained. “I felt great. I didn’t feel rushed. I could slow the game down and see plays ahead of time.”
What he did not see coming was the meltdown from the Pacers’ bench. George’s big night was wasted and now Indiana has to bounce back on Friday to save their season.