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George’s second-half explosion keeps Pacers alive

The Sports Xchange

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INDIANAPOLIS — Paul George saw green.

Go time.

With his team facing elimination in the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night, George scored 31 of his game-high 37 points in the second half, leading the Indiana Pacers to a 93-90 win over the Miami Heat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“Coach (Frank Vogel) told me, green light. Stay on green,” George said about Vogel’s halftime message to the team after missing his career playoff high by just two points. “I really came out inspired.”

The Heat still lead the best-of-seven series three games to two. Game 6 will be played Friday in Miami. If Indiana wins Friday, the deciding seventh game would be played Sunday in Indianapolis.

Early in the fourth quarter, George stamped his highlight on the night. The 6-foot-9 forward stole an attempted pass by Miami forward LeBron James and sprinted alone to the other end of the court for a powerful dunk. Those were two of nine points scored by George in the first three minutes of the quarter.

George scored 21 points in the final quarter, the most points he scored in one quarter in his career.

It was the kind of performance that impressed even the Heat, who are used to seeing James play such a pivotal role in a playoff game.

“Paul George made some big shots for them tonight,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said.

Even so, the Heat had a chance to win the game in the final seconds and clinch their spot in a fourth consecutive NBA Finals. With Miami trailing 92-90, James moved the ball to Heat center Chris Bosh for an open 3-point shot in the corner. The shot hit the rim and bounced away.

“I saw C.B. in the corner, his sweet spot,” James said.

Miami last lost a playoff series when it fell in the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.

“We can’t feel like it can’t be done,” George said of Indiana’s attempt to come back from a 3-1 deficit. “Every player in our locker room, every trainer, every coach, everybody in this organization have to feel like we can accomplish this. And we believe.”

The Pacers know they will see a different game from James, who battled foul trouble all night and finished with seven points. He was on the bench with his second foul in the opening quarter and again midway through the third quarter with his third foul. He was whistled for his fourth foul in the opening minute of the third quarter.

“It’s definitely something I’m not accustomed to,” James said.

“Twenty-four minutes is not enough for me to make an imprint.”

James missed seven of his first eight shots and finished 2-for-10 from the floor. He scored fewer than 22 points for the first time in the Heat’s 14 playoff games this year.

“It’s not going to be like that in Game 6,” George said. “We’re expecting that LeBron will be LeBron.”

Forward David West added 19 points for Indiana, and guard Lance Stephenson had 12. Center Roy Hibbert contributed 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

Bosh led the Heat with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Forward Rashard Lewis and Wade each scored 18.

While the game’s plot centered around the scoring by George and the non-existence of James, Stephenson had his own form of entertainment, including purposely getting within earshot of the Miami bench during a timeout.

“I was just trying to figure out what (Miami coach Erik Spoelstra) was talking about,” Stephenson said, joking after the game.

Before Game 4, Stephenson said James was talking trash during play.

“Lance is Lance,” James said. “He’s going to do whatever he can to help his team win.”

George was dominant late in the game, especially in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, when he scored nine points, not missing a shot. A 3-pointer by George with less than two minutes left gave the Pacers an 88-84 lead, and another 3-pointer with 46.7 seconds left put Indiana on top 91-87.

For nearly nine minutes of the second quarter, only reserve forward Luis Scola scored for Indiana. He hit three of five shots, outscoring the rest of the Pacers combined over the entire quarter. Outside of Scola, the Pacers missed eight of 10 shots.

Scola finished the game with six points.

NOTES: Indiana G Lance Stephenson said criticizing Miami F LeBron James publicly for trashing talk before Game 4 was a mistake. Pacers coach Frank Vogel would admit only that the two talked about it. … Miami F Chris Andersen missed his second consecutive game because of a bruised thigh. He scored 14 points, his 2014 postseason high, in the Heat’s Game 2 victory at Indiana. … Miami G Ray Allen, battling a bruised hip he sustained Game 4, did not participate in Wednesday morning’s shootaround, but he entered the game in the first quarter when F LeBron James was called for his second foul less than nine minutes in. Allen finished with 15 points.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair

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If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.

Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.

Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.

“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”

Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.

Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?

“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”

The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.

“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”

Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.

“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”

Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.

Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.

“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”

The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.

Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.

“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.

Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.

The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.

Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.

NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.

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Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle

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SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.

Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.

In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

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NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return

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Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.

Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.

“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”

Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.

“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”

In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.

–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.

He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.

Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.

–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.

“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”

Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.

“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.

–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.

The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.

Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.

–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.

Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.

In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.

–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.

Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.

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