George scores 39 as Pacers beat Wizards 95-92, take 3-1 lead in series

WASHINGTON — Paul George had a career playoff-high 39 points and added 12 rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers back from a 19-point deficit and past the Washington Wizards 95-92 on Sunday night to move one victory away from returning to the Eastern Conference finals.

The Pacers lead the second-round series 3-1 and can close it out Tuesday night, hosting Game 5.

George played 46 minutes and scored 28 points after halftime Sunday, including making six of his franchise playoff-record-tying seven 3-pointers.

“I kept wanting to try to get him a rest, and he kept saying, ‘No,’” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “And usually I’ll override that, but he kept making big shots, too.”

Roy Hibbert had 17 points and nine rebounds, continuing his recent surge after a poor-as-can-be start to the series, the zero-point, zero-rebound showing in a Game 1 loss. But he has responded with 28 points in Game 2, then 14 in Game 3, before helping Indiana win its third consecutive game Sunday, when Hibbert said he got a motivational boost from what he called 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.”

Hibbert helped Indiana overcome Washington’s 32-2 advantage in bench scoring.

The Wizards were up 17 at halftime, then made it 57-38 on Nene’s basket to open the third quarter.

That was thanks mainly to 30-somethings Al Harrington, Drew Gooden and Andre Miller, who combined for 28 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Wizards coach Randy Wittman likes to call that trio of not-yet-retired, best-days-behind-them guys — Miller, 38; Harrington, 34; Gooden, 32 — the “AARP group,” but they momentarily turned the game Washington’s way with quite a second quarter and a key stretch of the fourth.

There even were chants of “An-dre Mil-ler!” when he made two free throws in the fourth quarter to make it 85-76. But George willed the Pacers back.

His 3 with 5½ minutes left made it 85-79, and another 30 seconds later made it 85-82, giving him seven from beyond the arc, matching a mark held by Reggie Miller and Chuck Person.

John Wall (12 points, seven assists) gave Washington what turned out to be its last lead at 91-90 with about 2 minutes to go. George pushed Indiana back in front with two foul shots, and the Pacers then made a key defensive stand, forcing a shot-clock violation. In all, the Wizards were held to one field goal in the last 7 minutes.

At the other end, Hibbert made a 12-foot turnaround hook shot with 1:02 remaining to put the Pacers up 94-91, the ball bouncing on the rim before dropping through. The 7-foot-2 All-Star center sprinted down the court, his arms spread apart and his smile as wide as can be.

Wall then passed up an open 3-pointer, instead passing to Bradley Beal, who missed a 3 try.

“John’s going to close out games and this is part of his growing up,” Wittman said.

Indiana’s next possession ended with George Hill throwing the ball out of bounds for his team’s 19th of 20 turnovers, but Harrington missed a shot at the other end. Yet another Pacers turnover gave the Wizards a second chance, and Beal was fouled. He made 1 of 2, and George — who else? — grabbed the rebound. Hill was fouled, and went 1 for 2 at the line.

So the Wizards trailed by three with 6.1 seconds left. They couldn’t get the ball inbounds cleanly, though, thanks to more strong defense from the Pacers, and George corralled the ball.

The Pacers now head home knowing only eight teams in NBA history have ever blown a 3-1 lead in a playoff series.

They also know they’re playing much more like the team that pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in last season’s conference finals. Or the one that earned the No. 1 seeding by going 46-13 at the start of this season. And they’re looking far less like the one that went 10-13 down the stretch this year, then needed seven games to eke past eighth-seeded Atlanta in the first round.

That is thanks in large part to George.

“Paul is Paul. You know that you’re going to get 150 percent every time he’s on the court,” Hill said. “He knows he’s the go-to guy on this team.”

NOTES: The Wizards scored 18 fast-break points in the first half and zero in the second. … George’s previous postseason career best was 30 points. … Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III attended the game with his wife and parents.

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