After a lackluster performance in their Game 3 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night, Pacers forward Solomon Hill bemoaned Indiana’s inability to strike first over the first three games of the series.
“We’re not coming out swinging,” the third-year forward told reporters after the loss.
Well, the Pacers came out throwing a flurry of haymakers that would make Muhammad Ali smile in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon. For the first time all series, Indiana jumped out to an early lead and held on wire-to-wire for a 100-83 win.
The best-of-seven series is now tied at 2-2 with Game 5 scheduled for Tuesday night in Toronto. Regardless of that outcome, Game 6 will now be necessary and take place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday, April 29.
Leading the charge for the Pacers were a pair of somewhat surprising candidates, as George Hill and Ian Mahinmi each scored 22 points to lead all scorers.
“With this group everybody has to be an option for us, offensive threats, and tonight they were, which made us explode offensively,” said Pacers forward Paul George, who had led the team in scoring in each of the first three games.
Hill — who hadn’t topped 13 points in any of the first three games of the series — went 9-for-11 from the field and also collected four rebounds and three assists.
Mahinmi, meanwhile, scored 20 points for the first time ever in his eight-year career. Despite battling a lower back strain, the fashionable Frenchman went 9-for-14 from the field and tallied 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block.
“I can’t take credit for this today,” Mahinmi said. “Most of my shots were dunks and shots under the rim where I just had to go up dunk it.
“Today, my teammates really, really did an awesome job of finding me. It was a total team effort.”
History says that teams that fall behind 3-1 virtually never come back to win the series, so the Pacers knew they needed to put together a strong performance in Game 4. They could hardly have scripted a better start.
Indiana won the opening tip and George Hill buried a 3-pointer from the right corner on the game’s first possession, sending the capacity crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse into an early frenzy.
“We’ve been talking about if I get that opportunity to let it fly,” Hill said. “That’s all I tried to do was start the game off right.”
The Pacers scored the first seven points of the afternoon and kept their feet on the gas pedal. They stretched their lead to double digits in the closing minutes of the first quarter, when Paul George, Hill, and Monta Ellis each took turns hitting a three.
“Right from the start, from the first quarter, we were playing for each other,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said after the win. “Everybody with the basketball was thinking pass and everybody else was thinking about spacing and cutting and being aggressive. We did a much better job sharing and protecting it.”
But as good as the Pacers’ offense was in the early going, their defense was even better. Hounding the Raptors with relentless pressure, the hosts forced five turnovers in the opening quarter (leading to seven points on the other end) and held Toronto to 6-of-17 shooting through the first 12 minutes.
There was no let-up when the Pacers turned to their bench. The second unit was just as relentless with their defensive pressure and even more aggressive in attacking the basket.
The Pacers got to the basket with great frequency during a 16-4 run that gave them a 53-28 lead with 3:26 to play in the first half. The Raptors were able to shave 10 points off that deficit before halftime, but it was still a great half for Indiana.
The Pacers shot 56.1 percent over the first two quarters while holding Toronto to a 43.2 percent clip. They also forced Toronto into 11 turnovers and only committed four themselves.
“All season long, once we trust one another and move the ball from side-to-side and make good passes and believe in each other, we’re a hard team to beat,” Hill said.
Indiana’s offense stalled in the third quarter, as the Pacers made just 6-of-21 shots, but the Raptors were unable to take advantage of the slump. Toronto went just 1-for-11 from 3-point range in the period and committed six more turnovers. Pacers forward C.J. Miles tipped in a miss at the buzzer to allow the Pacers to maintain their 15-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Raptors cut the deficit to 12 points with 8:47 remaining in the final frame, but the Pacers responded with an 11-4 surge that closed out the victory.
Paul George joined Hill and Mahinmi in double figures in the victory, finishing the night with 19 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
“This is how I wanted us to respond to the Game 3 loss,” George said. “I thought we were very attentive and focused on evening the series up.”
Jonas Valanciunas led Toronto with 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting and six rebounds. All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry had 12 points and five assists, but fouled out in the fourth quarter. Fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan managed just eight points on 4-of-15 shooting while also committing six turnovers.
Game 5 is scheduled for Tuesday, April 26 in Toronto. The game will tip off at 6:00, 7:00, or 8:00 PM and air on either NBA TV or TNT. The time and channel for Game 5 will not be finalized until Sunday night.