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COLUMN

With or without George, Pacers are Heat challenged

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For more on sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

All-Star forward questionable with concussion

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - 10:50 pm

INDIANAPOLIS -- Beating Miami at full strength is a challenge.

Beating the two-time defending NBA champs without All-Star forward Paul George is, well, a challenge.

In other words, nothing changes for Indiana in the wake of word that George has a concussion and is questionable for Saturday's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals except the degree of difficulty potentially ratchets up a couple of notches.

A couple of big notches.

Beyond the fact he's the team's leading scorer, George also bears the main responsibility of guarding LeBron James. That's a heavy load to lose, but Indiana must find a way.

Just like the Heat did Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Anyway, how has George done against James?

Well, the four-time NBA MVP averages 23.5 points (six points less than his regular season average) and 8.5 rebounds in two games against the Pacers while shooting 20-for-36 from the field

However, James took over in Tuesday's fourth quarter as Miami rallied for a victory. Much of his production came after George had been injured.

George led Indiana in scoring (21.7 points) during the regular season. He had 24 points in the Game 1 victory and just 14 (on 4-for-16 shooting) in Tuesday's loss.

In the locker room afterward, George spoke softly, and likely not just because he was in a somber mood. He said he'd blacked out after the collision that included the back of his head banging into Dwyane Wade's knee, and then his forehead hitting the floor. He came out briefly, and said he returned with “blurred” vision.

According to an Indiana release, George didn't say anything about those symptoms to team trainers, who evaluated him on the sidelines before allowing him to return to the game. The team said George showed no signs of a concussion, that he was “active and aware of his surroundings,” and that he denied any dizziness, nausea or vision problems.

On Wednesday the Pacers sent George to a neurologist, who diagnosed a concussion, thus kicking in the NBA's concussion policy. He won't be allowed to play or practice until he is symptom free and passes a cognitive baseline test.

Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, Director of the NBA Concussion Program, said in the release that, “The Indiana Pacers medical team followed the NBA concussion protocol and there was no indication of concussion during the game. This case illustrates that concussion evaluation is an ongoing process and manifestations of the injury may not always present immediately.”

With or without George, Indiana must figure out a way to stop James and Wade, who took charge down the stretch as few duos can. It also must regroup after losing home game it was poised to win. Adding to the challege -- it must win at Miami, where it has lost four straight games.

A weak-minded team could buckle from that, but the Pacers have proven they're made of tougher stuff.

“It's not demoralizing,” coach Frank Vogel said. “We know they're great, great players. They're a great team. They're the champs. That's what we expect from those guys. They've been there before. So we've just got to respond.”

It would help if Vogel could use his bench more. Four starters basically played 40 minutes Tuesday night, and it would have been five if foul trouble hadn't limited forward David West to 34 minutes.

Bench production was a Tuesday problem. Four reserves played and combined for nine points (on 3-for-13 shooting) and six rebounds. Guard Rasual Butler led with six points and a rebound.

“Hopefully our bench guys will step up and we can extend their minutes a bit more,” Vogel said.

Pacer positives include the fact they are 5-0 in the postseason following a loss, and that Miami and Indiana have alternated wins in each of the last 13 meetings.

“We have to go on their floor and take a game the same way they did,” George said. “We gave this one away, so we have to work even harder.”

With or without George, that will be true.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com