WASHINGTON (AP) — When Frank Vogel wanted to give Paul George a rest, George said no.
When the coach offered to have George expend less energy by guarding someone other than sharp-shooting Bradley Beal, George said no.
After all, the Indiana Pacers were in a hole against the Washington Wizards, one that grew as large as 19 points early in the second half. And George was the one player who was really on his game.
George was subbed only once – for the final 1:37 of the first quarter – and finished with a career playoff-high 39 points Sunday night as the Pacers rallied past the Wizards 95-92 to a take a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Usually Coach takes me out to get a breather, but I knew every horn that sounded wasn’t for somebody coming to get me,” George said. “I already had it in my head that I was pretty much going to go the whole distance.”
George scored 28 points after halftime and finished 12 for 20 from the field. His seven 3-pointers tied a franchise playoff record. He also had 12 rebounds and had enough legs under him to make the final steal of the game – chasing down Trevor Ariza’s errant inbounds pass when the Wizards were trying to set up a tying basket in the final 10 seconds.
“They played a terrific basketball game,” Vogel said of the Wizards, “but sometimes you can be outdone by a special performance. And Paul George, what he did tonight was special. No other way to put it.”
The Pacers can close out the series Tuesday night when they host Game 5.
“We’ve got to win Game 5,” Vogel said. “That’s our only mindset. Momentum changes with every single game, no matter what. … In the playoffs, you can’t give your opponent any edge.”
Roy Hibbert scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, continuing a recent surge in a playoffs of extremes for the 7-foot-2 All-Star center. He had no points in Game 1, 28 in Game 2 and 14 in Game 3. He has been getting advice and support from plenty of sources – including his former Georgetown coach John Thompson III – but on Sunday he said his motivational boost came from a heckling fan.
“He woke me up,” Hibbert said. “He said I was tired. He was saying a lot of obscenities. I’m a God-fearing man, so I’m not going to go ahead and say what he was saying.”
An All-Star still in search of a spark is the Wizards’ John Wall, who scored 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting and committed five turnovers. For the series, he’s 16 for 51, including 1 for 11 from 3-point range, and has 12 turnovers in the last two games. Fans were chanting the name of his backup – Andre Miller – in the fourth quarter to reward the veteran’s solid game, but coach Randy Wittman nevertheless went back to the franchise player to run the show for the final 5:14.
“John’s going to close out games,” Wittman said, “and this is part of his growing up.”
In that final 5:14, the Wizards scored only one field goal. Wall was wide open for a 3-point attempt that could have tied the game in the final minute, but he hesitated and passed to Beal, who missed a contested 3.
“I was screaming, `Shoot it!'” teammate Al Harrington said.
Said Wall: “I’ve still got my confidence. It’s just not going in the basket.”
Wall indicated he was frustrated about officiating calls not going Washington’s way in the closing few minutes, but said he didn’t want to say more for fear of being docked pay by the NBA. Nene also made what sounded like a hidden complaint about officiating, saying: “I want to say the truth, but I can’t say the truth. … I don’t want to get fined.”
Meanwhile, Beal evaded George often enough to lead the Wizards with 20 points, but the Wizards shooting guard was just 1 for 5 in the fourth quarter.
“I hate not finishing off my assignment,” George said. “If Coach tells me to guard somebody, or I feel I need to guard somebody, then I want to make sure I get the job done. That’s all that was. I wanted to stay on my matchup. He’s a guy that can get hot, and I didn’t want to let him to get hot.”