Last night, Paul George and Video Game James switched remotes in a metaphorical sense. It was the formulaic body-switching trope at its finest. And at the best, no last possible time for Indiana. When a team takes a 3-1 series lead in the NBA playoffs, they complete the win 96 percent of the time. Indiana needed something completely illogical to happen if they wanted to survive what was turning into a runaway victory for Miami at one point.
While George has been fishing in a contaminated lake for buckets since Game 1, James has been living inside the cylinder. He’s decorated the place, stuck posters of himself up on the backboard and been receiving all of his mail there.
Upon returning to Indiana though, LeBron James was locked out of his crib and spent much of the night tending to his nails on the Heat’s bench. As James was stuck in homeostasis, George made a quantum leap forward ripping off 37 points and recording six 'Jameis Winstons' (see: steals)
What makes George’s performance most memorable is that it was so unexpected after his uninspiring six point first half. To his credit, those six points were one fewer than James scored all night as he spent more time lollygagging on the bench in foul trouble than Stephenson did in the corner grousing when he wasn’t getting touches.
It was the most in the zone we’ve seen George since Game 4 against Washington and the most zoned out James has been since the 2011 NBA Finals.
In the second half of Game 5, George looked more like Larry Bird as he connected on 5-of-14 treys. Only eight teams have ever rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in NBA playoff history. One of those was Bird’s ’81 young, upstart Celtics who would use their Eastern Conference Finals triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers to propel themselves to their first NBA title of the Bird era.
However, Larry Bird ain’t walking through that door. Well, he is, but not in a uniform. Bird is now the Indiana Pacers’ team president and his face has become a scoreboard substitute or an emotive Rorschach test for how the Pacers are playing.
George’s barrage of threes was Liam Neesons rescuing his daughter from sex traffickers while Key and Peele (Hibbert and Stephenson) practiced their physical comedy act.
Whether he wasn’t connecting from behind the parabola with hands in his face as buzzers sounded, George was plucking ball handlers at halfcourt
What Indiana really needs is for George to store that assassin’s mindset and hand-eye coordination in Grandma’s Tupperware and carry it on the road to Miami.
He needs to stay away from Tootsie's Cabaret and instead take Hibbert on another potential fishing trip—not of the TNT’s Inside the NBA variety either.
What he needs most of all is for Hibbert to join him on the level he’s ascended to.
Hibbert’s defense of the cup has been noted for the entire season, but what’s been underrated is how well he elevated his game against Miami in the playoffs last season compared to how prosaic his performances have been in this series.
While George was stealing Miami’s soul and Stephenson was antagonizing James, Hibbert provided a glimpse to the center who averaged 22 and 11 against the Heat during the Pacers last Eastern Conference Finals trip. Without Chris Andersen out of the lineup for the second consecutive game, Hibbert’s advantage was even more pronounced as he got better positioning deeper on the low block.
Andersen is the closest thing Miami has to a Serge Ibaka in the same way that Hibbert is the nearest equivalent Indiana has to Patrick Ewing.
Hibbert took 13 attempts on Wednesday, and only made five, but because his kinetic energy was so high, he was also sent to the line 13 times, converting his potential baker’s dozen into nine points.
Progress has been steady since his bagel in Game 2. Hibbert’s 0-for-4 performance that night seemingly doomed Indiana and allowed Miami to pilfer the home court advantage. Since then, Hibbert’s made amends by averaging 16 and 8. Now, they’ve to hit the road and ‘Jameis Winston’ home court back for a Game 7 in Indy.
The Pacers aren’t out of the woods yet. They’ve still got to make their way home. Role players come through at home. The road is where stars with mental fortitude bottle up those insecurities and beat the odds into their own favor. Hibbert’s done it before. Look no further than Game 6 in Miami last May when he painted his magnum upus with 29 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of deflections on passes intended for James to help force a Game 7.
Friday is Hibbert’s turn for a mythological return to form on the offensive end. What Indiana needs is for Hibbert and George to propel the Pacers to a victory by going ham on Miami at the same damn time.