This is why most Indiana Pacers fans never sound overly confident, especially after seeing so many fourth-quarter collapses this season.
Still, this being the NBA playoffs, who could have anticipated a Pacers team playing so well, then inexplicably flipping the switch and scoring just nine points in a Tuesday collapse that won’t be forgotten long after this season ends, which could be Friday.
The Pacers blew a 13-point lead entering the fourth quarter in setting a dubious franchise record for points scored in a quarter as the Toronto Raptors rallied to a 102-99 Game 5 victory at Air Canada Centre.
After struggling most of the night, second-seeded Toronto rallied to take a 3-2 series lead over seventh-seeded Indiana with Game 6 Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Pacers lost despite Paul George scoring a playoff career-best 39 points.
The Pacers lost despite hitting 11-of-17 3-pointers in the first half.
The Pacers lost despite never trailing in this pivotal game until it all fell apart late, being outscored 21-2 for much of the final quarter.
Pacers forward Solomon Hill hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer which would have forced overtime, but the referees ruled the shot wasn’t released until after time had expired.
"It's awful to have a chance to win on the road, go up 3-2 and come back home," George said, "but once again, we failed to live up to that moment. We've got to do it in Game 6."
Immediate social-media reaction was predictable as Pacers fans tweeted they’ve become accustomed to these heartbreaks. Much of the disgust was pointed at head coach Frank Vogel, who stuck with his struggling second team early in the fourth, despite six quick turnovers and no points as Toronto mounted its rally.
Pacers reserve point guard Rodney Stuckey couldn’t seem to do anything right. He 1-of-10 shooting with three turnovers. Reserve forward C.J. Miles made just 2-of-8 shots, including 1-of-5 from 3-point range. The Raptors reserves had a 31-19 scoring edge overall.
Asked about not bringing George back sooner to stem the tide, Vogel said, “He looked pretty gassed at the end of the third. We had a decent lead that I thought we could hold up.”
But it didn’t. And when George, George Hill, Monta Ellis and Myles Turner were back on the floor, they couldn’t stop the momentum. Raptors All-Star guard Demar DeRozan, who had struggled to find his shot for four games, scored a playoff-high 34 points. It was DeRozan who hit the go-ahead 3-pointer — his first in the series — to give the Raptors their first lead at 95-92 with 4:15 remaining.
Ellis missed a game-tying 3-pointer and the Raptors scored again as Cory Joseph drained another 3-pointer. Just like that, Indiana was down six and in serious trouble.
George, the series’ leading scorer with 144 points, scored his final basket. He finished 11-of-19 from the floor, including 5-of-11 on 3-pointers. After the Pacers hit 11-of-17 3-pointers in the opening half, they managed just 2-of-12 from beyond the arc in the second half. Pacers point guard George Hill hit four 3-pointers and had 15 points in the first half. He didn’t score in the second half.
After Kyle Lowry hit a pair of foul shots, the Pacers tried to rally late as Turner scored inside and Solomon Hill sank a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to 100-99. After two DeRozan free throws, George was unable to get off a 3-pointer against double coverage and passed to Hill, who took a fateful extra second or two to set his feet behind the line before making the 3-point shot.
Referees consulted and ruled the potential game-tying shot came too late.
While the Pacers are now faced with a do-or-die situation come Friday, losing Game 5 this way was demoralizing to say the least.
Vogel was asked what he said to his players afterward.
“Remain confident,” he said, “and don’t get caught up quote unquote in that kind of loss.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.