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George, Pacers rally to grab 3-1 series edge

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WASHINGTON — The unflappable Indiana Pacers received a stellar performance from forward Paul George and a motivational gift from a heckling fan.

They absorbed early blows from Washington’s veteran reserves, yet they still pushed the Wizards to the brink of elimination.

George scored 15 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, and the Pacers rallied from a 19-point, second-half deficit for a 95-92 win over the Wizards in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

The Pacers, who lost the series opener, hold a commanding a 3-1 lead after winning consecutive road games. They will have a chance to close out the Wizards on Tuesday night in Indianapolis.

George dominated on both ends of the court, finishing with 12 rebounds while hitting 12 of 20 shots from the floor, including seven of 10 3-point attempts. He also harassed Washington guard Bradley Beal defensively and did so while playing 46 minutes, including every second of the final three quarters.

“Usually coach (Frank Vogel) will take me out for a breather,” George said. “I knew every horn that sounded wasn’t for someone to get me.”

Vogel said, “Sometimes you get outdone by a special performance, and what Paul George did tonight was special.”

George was aided by Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, and by an imposing Indiana defense that stifled the fast-breaking Wizards over the final minutes.

“We never panicked, in particular our (starting) five,” Pacers forward David West said. “We know that in most cases we can just depend on our defense to methodically (wear) teams down, get stops after stops.”

Indiana let Washington run early, and the Wizards raced out to a 57-38 lead seconds into the third quarter. Even after the Pacers tied the game at 74-74 less two minutes into the fourth, the Wizards pushed back. Sparked throughout by their bench, led by forwards Drew Gooden and Al Harrington, the Wizards immediately pushed back for an 85-76 lead with 7:09 remaining. The Pacers had another surge at the ready.

“It’s shocking. We really felt after Game 1 that we were in position to control this series,” Harrington said. “We’ve given that up at this point by losing two home games. It’s a tough spot.”

Beal scored 20 points and forward Trevor Ariza had 16 for the Wizards, who have lost three straight after winning the series opener in Indiana. Harrington scored 11 points and Gooden had 10, helping Washington’s reserves outscore Indiana’s 32-2.

George and Hibbert scored Indiana’s final 18 points in the third and had a similar close in the fourth.

With Indiana trailing 85-76 and 7:09 left, George made consecutive 3-pointers. He and fellow All-Star Hibbert combined to score 18 of Indiana’s final 19 points.

George’s free throws gave the Pacers the lead for good at 92-91 with 1:47 remaining. With 1:01 left, Hibbert increased the margin to 94-91 by sinking a 12-footer.

After the teams each hit one free throw, Washington trailed 95-92 with 6.1 seconds to go. The Wizards never got off a potential game-tying attempt, as George stole Ariza’s errant pass.

After setting a franchise low for points in an 85-63 loss Friday in Game 3, the Wizards led 55-38 at halftime Sunday.

Wizards guard John Wall suffered a scratched right eye during the second half Friday. In between Games 3 and 4, Wall wore a contact lens in the hopes of limiting any swelling or blurriness.

He directed the Wizards to 18 fast-break points in the first half after they managed just nine combined in Games 2 and 3. However, Washington did not add to that total after halftime Sunday. Wall, who passed an open shot attempt in the final minute, finished 4-for-11 from the field for 12 points, and he handed out seven assists.

“I’ve been as aggressive as I can be,” said Wall, who is 16-for-51 from the field in the series and 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.

Once again, the series pivoted on Hibbert’s production. This time the D.C.-area native claimed to receive motivation by a fan heckling him throughout.

“He woke me up. He said I was tired,” Hibbert said. “He was saying a lot of obscenities. I’m a God-fearing man, so I’m not going into saying what he was saying. … He got me going.”

Hibbert had just two points when Indiana trailed 70-56 with 3:35 left in the third quarter. He then tallied nine of the Pacers’ next 11 points as Indiana ended the period with a 15-2 run.

NOTES: Pacers G George Hill added 15 points. F David West contributed 14 points and a game-high eight assists. … Indiana led 27-26 after the first quarter, marking the first time Washington trailed after the opening period in nine playoff games this year. … Washington Redskins stars Robert Griffin III and DeSean Jackson watched from courtside. … Washington’s last home playoff appearance beyond the first round came in the 1979 NBA Finals against the Seattle SuperSonics.

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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