Pacers collapse in 4th, spoil huge night by Paul George in loss to Raptors

TORONTO -- Paul George sat in relative silence in the visitors locker room at the Air Canada Centre late Tuesday night. The Indiana Pacers' superstar had scored 39 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out eight assists, nabbed two steals and blocked a shot in 41 minutes, but it wasn't enough. The Pacers blew a 17-point lead and lost 102-99 to the Toronto Raptors, putting George and his teammates on the brink of playoff elimination.

The All-Star forward let his feet soak in an ice bucket as he alternated between checking his cellphone and scanning the box score balanced on his leg. When George turned to the stats in front of him, he couldn't help but focus on the same number that surprised the rest of the league.

"Only one stat," George said, when asked what popped out at him. "Nine points in the fourth. It's the only thing to look at -- nine points in the fourth."

The sudden turn of events in the final 12 minutes of Tuesday's game left George and his teammates shell-shocked. They were outscored 25-9 in the fourth, registering the fewest points in a fourth quarter in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. George scored just two points in that stretch. Seemingly everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for a Pacers group that will replay the quarter in their minds over and over if they don't come back and win the series.

"I thought we played a little nervous, a little tight, on our heels," George admitted. "We just didn't finish. We didn't finish around the basket well enough. We didn't see the open guys when they helped. But I think, to look at it as a whole, we just played tight. It's certainly the way we didn't open the game up."

The Pacers went 11-for-17 from the 3-point line in the first half. They played with pace and got seemingly whatever they wanted offensively, especially George.

So what happened?

There are usually various reasons that explain why a team melts down, but in this game there were two crucial stretches the Pacers will look back at and wonder about. At the start of the second quarter, with a mostly reserve lineup on the floor, the Pacers watched a 15-point lead evaporate to a three-point edge within three minutes. History repeated itself in the fourth quarter as a 13-point lead shrank to seven in a little over three minutes. Pacers coach Frank Vogel acknowledged that he thought about going with a different group to start the final quarter.

"I did," Vogel said. "Chose to trust those guys. Those guys have been good for us. They had a tough stretch there."

George didn't want to call out anyone after the game, but his frustration with some of his teammates was evident.

"I think our guys individually know, individually, that they have to bring it," George said. "I'm not about putting guys down or putting teammates down, but individually everybody has to bring it."

As angry as the Pacers were at the result, they didn't give off the vibe that the sky was falling. Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird casually strolled through his team's locker room with a Coke cup in his hand on his way to meet with assorted team personnel. While making the short walk from the locker room to his news conference, Vogel offered a few congratulatory words to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.

There was meaning to Vogel's method. He kept his message to the group simple.

"Remain confident," Vogel said. "And don't get caught up in quote-unquote that kind of loss. All we said all game long when we had the lead was, it's a 48-minute game. Can't get caught up in what we led at what time or anything like that. We had to win; we're trying to beat a 56-win team in their building in a Game 5. So it's a 48-minute game. We played well, just fell short. Remain confident. Come back and get Game 6."

In order for the Pacers to do that, they have to give George the help he didn't get down the stretch Tuesday. George could be more aggressive. He took just three shots over his final 8:36 of play, but he did his part. This game offered another example that even the best players can't always win playoff games by themselves. It will be up to George and Vogel to help the team make the memory of that final stretch go away.

"We can't worry about this game now, it's over," Pacers guard George Hill said. "We can't replay it. We can't go back in a time machine and redo it. You got to move on and go to Game 6."