West gets Indy back in right direction
For desperate Pacers, fundamental forward key down stretch in must-win Game 6
ATLANTA -- A simple exchange between two teammates carried substantial weight over the final seven minutes of a game in which the Indiana Pacers needed to keep their season alive.
Right before Paul George made a 3-pointer to cut the Pacers' deficit to one point, David West walked over to his two-time All-Star teammate and delivered a message to him. Desperation had set in for Indiana. It had to be George and West who carried them down the stretch if they wanted to play another game this season.
And they followed through.
The Pacers' best all-around player and their voice of reason combined to score 21 of their 31 points in the fourth quarter of the team's 95-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Game 7 is Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"Paul and I have to be the creators and finishers in those moments," West said. "Again, aggression was the right level. We collectively made plays when we needed to make plays."
George's availability for Game 7 is in question after he left the bench and took several steps onto the court during an altercation between teammate George Hill and Hawks forward Mike Scott late in the second quarter. George took only a couple of steps on to the floor, but NBA rules prohibit players not in the game from the leaving the bench and going onto the court during altercations. League officials will review the play before making a decision on George's status for Game 7.
"I haven't seen [the video], but somebody told me about it," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "I'm not concerned with any suspensions until we hear something."
The Pacers trailed by five points and their prospects appeared bleak with a little more than three minutes left when West stepped to the forefront.
He scored six of the Pacers' next eight points. His final basket during that spurt came when he sized up Hawks forward Paul Millsap from straight away. George drew a mismatch on the wing in Hawks center Pero Antic. West was not interested in giving up the ball. He was going to take the shot on that possession. He drove to his left and made a six-foot shot to give the Pacers the lead for good, 87-85.
"[West has] poise and composure," Vogel said. "When a team is making a run like that and you're dealing with an eight seed trying to knock off a one seed in their building and the play is erupting on every play, [it's great to have] somebody out there with that level and composure. He's our rock. There's no other way to put it."
West has never been a flashy player during his 11-year career. While other power forwards like Blake Griffin play above the rim, West is grounded in fundamentals. More old school than flash. A jab step to get some space between him and the defender. An up-and-under move rather than a dunk. And West is never in a rush when making his move.
That's why he was perfect for Thursday because he wouldn't get overeager trying to do something outside his comfort zone.
"He was special for us," George said. "He's a huge calming presence. Nothing fazes him. I knew when the game was tight like that, to have him on your side it gives you confidence that we were going to finish the game off. He just made play after play to give us a cushion late in the game."
Now the Pacers head home to play a Game 7.
"Energy is going to be great," West said. "We just have to handle our business and don't disappoint."