BOSTON — Paul George found the range at just the right time on Saturday night.
But that really should not come as much of a surprise from one of the NBA’s best.
The Indiana forward, suffering through a tough shooting night, scored 10 points in the final 4:20 and the Pacers, the team with the best record in the NBA, fought off a game effort by the Boston Celtics for a 102-97 victory.
“He’s solid. He’s not going to lose his confidence,” Pacers forward David West said after Indiana improved to 45-13 with its fourth straight win and its fifth in the last six games. “He’s just got that mindset that the next shot’s going in. He just stayed with it.”
George, who came in averaging 22.6 points per game, finished with 25, going 9-of-20 from the floor. He also had eight rebounds.
“I missed too many chippy ones,” he said. “Too many easy ones. I told myself when it comes back around I gotta make sure I make those shots. So I just locked in and focused and my teammates found me.”
His coach, Frank Vogel, did not think George was off by that much and indicated the 3-pointer that made it 99-94 with 1:15 left was typical of his star.
“It’s just something that we never know, whether Paul is going early, going late, we know he’s going to deliver for us down the stretch, so we’re confident going to him, Vogel said.
George helped his team win a game that turned when three points were taken away from the Celtics in the closing minutes.
Guard Rajon Rondo banked home a desperation 3-pointer that seemed to give the Celtics a three-point lead with 4:37 left. George then scored four straight points and it was 1:59 later that, during a timeout, the officials reviewed Rondo’s shot and ruled it a 24-second violation. Instead of 94-93 Indiana, it was 94-90.
“The refs told us they were going to review it next timeout,” Vogel said.
George said, “I did think he shot it late.”
Even Celtics coach Brad Stevens had to admit, “We knew it didn’t count, or at least we thought it didn’t count. So we were kind of thinking (behind) 94-90 the whole time when we came back to the huddle and they went to the board.”
Guard Lance Stephenson had 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists as five Pacers scored in double figures. Guard Evan Turner, playing his third game with his new team but also seeing time at the point with George Hill sidelined, scored 17 points off the bench. Center Roy Hibbert had 15 points and West added 12 points and seven rebounds.
George said Turner, acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers at the trade deadline, is “as versatile as they come.”
Forward Jeff Green led the Celtics, who have lost six of their last seven, with 27 points. Forward Kris Humphries had 18 points and 10 rebounds, forward Brandon Bass delivered 16 points and Rondo finished with 12 points, 11 assists and seven boards.
“It kind of took the wind out of our sails when that 3 didn’t count,” Humphries said. “Kind of wish they’d review it right away in the league. Then they hit a big three and we couldn’t get the momentum back.”
Vogel, who used to be a Celtics assistant, shook his head when asked about Rondo.
“Best in the world. He’s a terrific, terrific basketball player and he’s as unique as there is in the NBA, in the world,” Vogel said. “I don’t there’s anybody who plays the way that Rajon Rondo does.”
Rondo registered his third straight double-double and played 38:29, his highest minutes total since returning from knee surgery.
“And he didn’t want to come out ever, so that was a good sign,” Stevens said. “And I thought he was good.”
NOTES: Pacers PG George Hill missed the game with a left shoulder bruise suffered Thursday night. … Pacers C Andrew Bynum, who has yet to play for his latest new team, did not make the trip because it was a one-day affair. He is scheduled to make the next road trip. “I just want to play,” Bynum told The Indianapolis Star. … The Celtics, who just lost F Gerald Wallace for the season with a knee injury, signed G Chris Babb to a 10-day contract. He played briefly Saturday. … As far as losing Wallace, Boston coach Brad Stevens said, “It’s pretty significant defensively.” … The Celtics were also missing big men Kelly Olynyk (toe) and Vitor Faverani (knee) and G Avery Bradley (ankle), but F Jared Sullinger returned after missing three games with a mild concussion and had 10 points and six rebounds in 24:31. … The Pacers host the Utah Jazz on Sunday night and the Celtics next play the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night in Boston.
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