INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — This time, the Indiana Pacers buckled down and fought back.
Reeling from a fourth-quarter collapse followed by a sluggish start, the Pacers turned things around just in time with an 18-0 run to save their season.
Paul George and George Hill combined for 24 second-half points Friday to help Indiana pull away for a 101-83 victory over the Raptors to force a decisive Game 7 on Sunday in Toronto.
“We just had a fight in us,” George said. “As a group, collectively, we knew that this could be the end of our season. We just did a great job of battling.”
And closing it out.
Indiana had trouble all season closing out games and when it blew a seemingly safe 13-point lead in Game 5, the question was how would the Pacers respond?
They answered with one of their best halves all year, closing the third quarter with six straight points after Toronto had cut the deficit to 65-64 and opening the fourth on a 12-0 run.
George led the way. The league’s No. 1 playoff scorer coming into the night had 21 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals, going 10 of 10 at the free throw line.
He also had plenty of help. All five Indiana starters scored in double figures, including Myles Turner, who had 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Hill added 12 points.
Coach Frank Vogel couldn’t have concocted a better script heading into Indiana’s biggest game of the season.
“I believe we can play with this team,” he said. “We have great respect for them. But I really believe we’re hitting our stride at the right time and playing our best basketball of the season when it matters. You just have to continue to believe in who you are.” ‘‘
Now the series and the pressure shifts back to Toronto.
The Raptors haven’t won a postseason series since 2001 and their 15-year drought is longest active streak in the league.
They have never won a best-of-seven series, something they could have done had they not blown a 3-2 lead and lost Game 7 on their home court against Brooklyn in 2014.
And if they had maintained the lead they held for the first 26½ minutes of Game 6, they would already have a ticket to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Instead, the Pacers’ defense stopped Toronto.
DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph each scored 15 points while Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan struggled yet again.
Lowry had 10 points and 10 assists, going 4 of 14 from the field, while DeRozan scored eight points and was 3 of 13.
The All-Star guards know they must perform better in Game 7 — or Toronto could be going home.
“The season would be a failure if we don’t get out of the first round and give ourselves a chance to play in the second round,” DeRozan said. “We understand that.”
Indiana handed out gold T-shirts to fans at the game and it caused a bit of a stir because the wording on the shirts read: United State of Basketball, We The Gold. It was a twist on Toronto’s motto — We The North. Raptors coach Dwane Casey didn’t seem to mind that Indiana stole the idea. “I know that they have a great home court. You know you’re in Pacers territory because of all the gold shirts,” he said. “But what happens between the lines for 48 minutes is what I’m concerned about.”
The Pacers are one win away from becoming the sixth team with the No. 7 seed to upset a No. 2 seed since the playoffs expanded in 1984. Of course, history isn’t what the Pacers are talking about. “They’ll have their fans out in full force and they’re going to be revved up,” Pacers swingman Solomon Hill said. “It’s just going to be the more desperate team - whoever wants it.”
DeRozan has been one of the league’s best at getting to the line, but he struggled again Friday. DeRozan made both of his free throw attempts. He’s been held to no free throws twice, after doing that only once all season. George, in contrast, is 55 of 58 at the line in the series and has already set a franchise record for most free throws made in an NBA playoff series.
Raptors: The Raptors were outrebounded 23-16 in the second half and wound up getting outrebounded 44-40. ... Jonas Valanciunas had 14 points. ... Bismack Biyombo grabbed 10 rebounds. ... Toronto gave up 20 points on 17 turnovers.
Pacers: Turner blocked four shots, giving him 19 in the series to break Antonio Davis’ previous franchise rookie record in a six-game series. ... Indiana started the second half by making five of its first seven shots. ... Actor-comedian Mike Epps, who lives in Indy, attended the game. ... The Pacers have won four straight elimination games on their home court.