Pacers formidable without big man

The next Hibbert-less Pacers run came when the big man went to the bench with a silly fifth foul with Indy leading by nine. Within two minutes, Indiana actually extended its lead to 66-51, its largest advantage of the game.

And in the final 6:12 of the game, Hibbert was on the floor as Miami pulled off a 19-10 finishing run to snatch a difficult victory.

Yes, the Pacers allowed a season-high 50 points in the paint, which had plenty to do with Hibbert playing less than half the game. And yes, the Heat had more success on drives with Hibbert off the floor (13 of 20 field goals made) than with him on the floor (8 of 22). But that doesn't change the fact the Pacers displayed an ability to play with, and sometimes outplay, Miami without their primary anchor.

And it's safe to say George's emergence as a true go-to option against any style of defense is mostly what makes that possible.

For the second straight game against Miami, George did the majority of his damage in the second half, this time scoring 18 points of his 25 with three assists, four rebounds and two steals in the second half Wednesday. He went from a player who looked a bit rattled and sloppy early on to a player who believes himself to be LeBron James' peer in the second half. "You just can't lose track of him," James said of George. "His first 3 in the third quarter was a miscommunication between me and Rio, and he knocked one down. Then he had one in transition, similar to what Ray [Allen] had [late in the fourth quarter]. Once a scorer sees the ball go through the rim, it opens up more and more.

"He was able to get a pull-up on a [crossover], get to the free throw line, get an and-one off an offensive rebound [and pass] from Mahinmi. I could play all the plays back in my head. He was able to get a good rhythm."

And frankly, this outcome could've been entirely different -- and the ensuing narrative along with it -- had one more whistle been blown in the closing seconds.

His team trailing by three with the final seconds ticking off the clock, George used a screen from David West to get James behind him, then caught a pass off the curl and leaned in for a potential game-tying 3-pointer.

Except George wasn't so much leaning as he was helped forward by a James forearm to his lower back. George said he was "setting that up, because I knew he was going to trail me hard." Replays show James contacting George and seemingly disrupting what would've already been a difficult shot.

There was no whistle, which George made perfectly clear was upsetting to him. But despite a disastrous final three minutes and a frustrating final few seconds, George doesn't see much reason to be disappointed overall.

Because he left Miami seeing his team as an equal to the two-time defending champs. With good reason.

"We don't feel good about losing, but we feel good about the way we played up until the last two or three minutes," George said. "We played a great game, we shared the ball, we attacked them the way we wanted to attack them, which is to draw a double-team and kick to the next man. We limited our turnovers. It's just that last two or three minutes.

"These losses will only make us compete even harder."

That's hard to imagine given how hard Indiana has been playing this season, with the clear goal of grabbing the No. 1 seed in the East. And it won't help that the rematch with Miami won't come for another three months, which even James said was "kind of sad."

But George and Co. know this much. When they do return to face Miami, the Pacers' success won't hinge strictly on a giant named Hibbert.

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