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Toughest step ahead on Pacers' playoff push

INDIANAPOLIS -- Roy Hibbert had his legs stretched out as his 7-foot-2 frame was slouched in his chair in the locker room. Down on the ground to his left was a protein shake, a Gatorade and some electrolytes. Written on the dry-erase board was "fluids, carbs and recovery tights."

The recovery period had already started for the Indiana Pacers.

There was no basking in silencing Washington Wizards All-Star guard John Wall's desire to want to play a part in keeping the Pacers out of the playoffs.

The attention had immediately shifted to the Memphis Grizzlies moments after the final buzzer sounded in the Pacers' 99-95 double-overtime victory over the Wizards.

The playoff destiny, the one that was bleak last week, is right there for the Pacers. There's no scoreboard watching, hoping that the Brooklyn Nets lose. The Nets have already helped Indiana out by laying in the fetal position the past two games. Now, after not having point guard George Hill for 30 games and not having do-everything player Paul George for the first 76 games of the season, all the Pacers have to do is beat the Grizzlies on the second night of a back-to-back on the road and after playing an additional 10 minutes of basketball to lock in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Memphis has lost two straight games and is dealing with injuries to point guard Mike Conley (ankle), center Marc Gasol (ankle) and guard Tony Allen (hamstring).

"This win over Washington means nothing if we go lay an egg in Memphis," a tired Hill said as he slowly dressed. "We lose and we're probably done. Win and keep playing. Lose and go home. That's all that needs to be said."

The Pacers are in the midst of a six-game winning streak, but you have to wonder what they'll have left against the Grizzlies. Three starters played more than 41 minutes and they had to battle mental and physical fatigue to will their way through the game against Washington. The last thing coach Frank Vogel wanted was for them to be at the mercy of Brooklyn again.

He talked to George and decided to exceed his 15-minute limitation by using him in the final seconds of regulation and in overtime to play him almost 18 minutes.

There was a risk in doing that because it's uncertain how George's body will react Wednesday and it could impact how much the Pacers use him against Memphis. But it was a risk Vogel was willing to take. It was Game 7 for Indiana. George's 20-foot jumper tied the game at 85-85 with 22.4 seconds left in the first overtime.

"I love this team," Vogel said. "We have one game to get in the playoffs and give ourselves a chance, we have to regroup and get back after it."

When it mattered most, it was the same players who were part of their core group during their rise in the Eastern Conference the past three seasons -- Hill, George, Hibbert and David West -- that made key plays for the Pacers in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Hill had 14 points, five assists and four rebounds in the fourth quarter and the two overtimes. His 3-pointer in the second overtime gave the Pacers a five-point lead and had Vogel smiling, smacking him on the chest as he walked off the court and telling his starting point guard that he just made an "[expletive] unbelievable shot."

Hibbert played so badly during the first three quarters that you could hear moans every time he shot the ball. But it was the inconsistent center who was diving on the ground for loose balls and whose 20-foot jumper from the top of the key tied the game with 57.5 seconds left in the first overtime.

"I couldn't make any baskets, but I also knew I couldn't leave anything on the court," Hibbert said. "We had to be hungry and go out there and take it. They weren't going to give it to us. I had to impact the game somehow."

West has been the backbone of the Pacers since he signed with the team in 2011. And he was the one who threw two pinpoint passes on back-to-back possessions that led to baskets for C.J. Miles, who finished with a game-high 25 points, and Hill during the middle of a 13-2 run that gave the Pacers a 79-75 lead in the fourth quarter. West also stripped the ball from Wizards guard Bradley Beal and caused it to go off his leg with 2.9 seconds left in the first overtime.

Now those same players, along with the help of their bench, will have to find enough energy to do the same thing in Memphis to extend their season at least four more games.

"Just all out heart, will and perseverance," Vogel said. "We had so many opportunities to give in. You win, you're in. You lose, you're probably out."