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Pacer clues boil down to crunch-time toughness

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

George's status for Saturday remains uncertain

Friday, May 23, 2014 - 11:58 am

INDIANAPOLIS -- Controversy lingers on the edge of Pacers-Heat playoff buzz, as you knew it would. Rivalry without drama asks too much amid these Eastern Conference stakes and the three-day gap before Saturday's Game 3.

It is, of course, no consequence in the big picture whether Paul George's concussion came as the result of an accident or a manifestation of the dark side of Dwyane Wade. He either plays or he doesn't, and Indiana is preparing for both scenarios, coach Frank Vogel said.

When will the answer come?

“No clue,” Vogel said.

In fact, it might not come until Saturday

“I think we have guys who can fill in, certainly not play at Paul's level, but we would have to adjust,” Vogel said. “We have great depth. Teams have to adjust to injuries all the time. I'm sure we will be able to do that.”

On Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, George basically worked on shooting while teammates got into the heart of preparations for a Game 3 rebound effort. The Pacers lost a huge opportunity to take a 2-0 series lead with Tuesday's home loss, and the best way to make up for it is with a Saturday victory in Miami.

It starts, forward David West said, but certainly doesn't end, with limiting turnovers.

“We have to take care of the ball. When they've beaten us, it's because we haven't handled their pressure.

“Particularly late, they cranked it up and trapped us. We can't panic. We have to handle their pressure, handle the ball.

“We have to be almost perfect to beat a team of the Heat's caliber.”

Pacer perfection is unlikely at any time, let alone without the 6-9 George. He is a defensive superstar, rare for an elite scorer. He is one of the few humans capable of slowing down Heat superstar LeBron James.

With or without George, center Roy Hibbert said, the task remains the same -- win at least one of these next two games in Miami.

“We'll be ready to go,” Hibbert said. “Whenever (George is) ready, we'll bring him back.”

Meanwhile, talking heads fill the Indianapolis airwaves with suggestions George's fourth-quarter collision with Wade ended with two intentional shots to the head by the Miami superstar. The video neither confirms nor refutes that, which only fuels cheap-shot talk, which is what happens when black-and-white emotion clashes with shades of gray reality.

In other words, if you can't prove it, make it up.

Anyway, Miami won Game 2 because it was tougher down the stretch. That didn't just happen. Wade suggested it was born three years ago, when Wade, James and Chris Bosh joined forces and the Heat's NBA finals loss to Dallas in six games fueled their consecutive championships.

“We always give credit to our first year together when we did panic in situations like this,” Wade said. “We were able to grow up a lot.

“We're very confident coming down the stretch. First, because we believe in our defense. Second, we've got two guys (Wade and James) that we can put the ball in their hands, and they're going to make the best play for the team. So you have confidence in that. That's why we don't break a sweat in those moments. We just look at each other and say, we've got to do it better, or we've got to do it our way.”

Full strength or not, the Pacers have to do it their way -- defend ferociously, score efficiently, rebound resolutely -- to have a chance Saturday night. There's no controversy about that.