Paul George was quite candid about how the Indiana Pacers must approach Saturday’s Game 4 against the Toronto Raptors at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“Well, hopefully as a group, we respond pissed off,” the three-time All-Star forward said after Thursday’s deflating 101-85 home loss that put the Pacers down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference best-of-seven playoff series. “That’s the only way to overcome a loss like this.
“We missed a great opportunity. Simple as that. We missed a great opportunity. So the only way to respond to Game 4 is to be pissed off. Do everything tougher. Play a lot harder. We’ve got to be the first team to be on the floor, diving for loose balls, getting every loose ball, we have to be that team.”
The Raptors led by 17 at halftime and were never seriously threatened in seizing back home-court advantage with a second consecutive double-digit victory. The Pacers had the advantage after a Game 1 win in Toronto, but two games later, they’re in a must-win situation at home Saturday. They can’t afford to back to Toronto down 3-1.
George spoke of how both teams know each other too well, so it’s not about what plays are drawn up but the intensity with which the Pacers play. While he’s led all scorers in the series with 86 points, the Pacers have had only one other double-digit scorer in each of the losses. When they won 100-90 at Toronto, they had five double-digit scorers.
Worse yet, George and his teammates lost their composure in Game 3. George, guard Rodney Stuckey and rookie forward Myles Turner were assessed technical fouls. George earned the first after complaining to a referee on back-to-back trips down the floor.
“It’s playoffs,” George said. “You’ve got to kinda let some stuff slide. We’re playing for something that means something. I understand it’s a way of coming to the officials. They’re grown men and they’re adults and they’re human beings. But at the same time, we’re playing for something. So you’ve got to let us play.”
Problem is, George’s complaints were about Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll hitting his arm or on nearly every shot. It obviously affected the Pacers’ best player, who made just 6-of-19 shots including 1-of-8 3-pointers.
“Countless times, we were laughing about it during the game, countless times I was telling the officials, ‘He’s hitting my elbow every shot,’” George said. “He’s a good defender. That’s what DeMarre does. I knew at some point I was going to see that DeMarre, that’s the chippy DeMarre. But on a lot of my shots, he was getting away with hitting the elbow and hitting the wrist and making it tough for me to follow through and see the ball go down.”
George admitted he must be better about posting up Carroll and forcing double teams so he can pass to open teammates. But it’s fair to say his teammates have to hit their shots.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said he will look at tinkering a starting lineup that saw forward Lavoy Allen fail to score. Center Ian Mahinmi has also been ineffective, especially defending against Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, who have scored 44 points and grabbed 48 rebounds in the three games. The Pacers staretd Turner in the second half of Game 3 and the rookie finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
“We’ll consider everything,” Vogel said.
George credited Valanciunas with doing an “amazing job” and said the Pacers must “match his physicality.” They must also contend with the Raptors’ All-Star backcourt of Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who haven’t shot the ball well but each scored 21 in Game 3.
“We’ve gotta work on keeping close to them and making it difficult for them to make shots,” said Pacers point guard George Hill, who has averaged just nine points in the series while typically guarding one of the two Raptors stars.
The Raptors have outscored the Pacers in each of the first quarters, 75-52 combined. So it’s imperative the Pacers must respond from the start on Saturday.
“We can’t let the opposing team be the first one to really put their imprint on the game as the physical team,” George said. “That’s what it comes down to, playoffs is whoever is physical is going to win the game.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.