Young kept Pacers in the game, George closed in win against the odds over Portland

The NBA schedule Gods weren’t looking out for the Pacers over the last week. They had them play five games in the last seven days. The first four were on the road, and the final one was on the second night of a back-to-back less than 24 hours after tipping off in Dallas.

Poor scheduling, back-to-back, and that dreaded first game back from a road trip. Players and coaches agree that it’s the worst, most unforgiving game of a schedule.

“Ah, man. We felt terrible [before the game],” Thad Young shared afterwards. “As a team, we were all tired and our legs were weird.”

[Basketball Day in Indiana showcases Indiana hoops for 13 hours]

See, the excuses were there even if they didn’t want to use them, and the Pacers got behind big time in the first quarter.

Halfway through the opening frame, the Portland Trail Blazers (12-13) had pulled ahead by 15 points after Damian Lillard knocked down 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions. It was during a stretch where Lillard ran off 13 straight points in a quarter where the Trail Blazers poured in 44 points, its highest-scoring quarter through 25 games.

It was a 14-point hole with less than three minutes left in the half. Instead of allowing the Trail Blazers to tact onto it, the Pacers closed on a 9-2 run to draw to within seven points, 71-64.

Thad Young kept the team afloat throughout much of the game. He finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, and sank a career-high six 3-pointers on eight attempts. For perspective, he made just seven 3s all of last season in Brooklyn.

“I think it opens up the offense when he’s aggressive like that tonight,” said Pacers coach Nate McMillan. “He just had a bounced to him tonight on both ends of the floor.”

Added Paul George: “I thought Thaddeus was the biggest player of us all tonight. We were joking about him not wanting to space behind that three and what do you know, he goes 6-for-8. He was timely. I thought all of his 3s, all of his shots, and his offensive rebounding, everything was timely within this game tonight.

“I was able to make shots late in the game, but he was the one that kept us in the game.”

After Young had several deep balls go through, he felt the defense tighten up on him.

“They got to the point in the fourth (quarter) when they were hugging me,” he said with a laugh. “I think one of those times, Big Al [Jefferson] got a layup just because they were hugging the 3-point line.”

George scored a season-high 37 points in 36 minutes. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

George scored a season-high 37 points in 36 minutes. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Ultimately, it was Paul George taking over and guiding the team to a 118-111 win to even their record — yet again — to .500 for already the 10th (!!!) time this season … at 12-12.

“We just can’t seem to find consistency,” George said. “We’re right in the middle, and that’s just been the theme [of the season].

For the Trail Blazers, their backcourt of Lillard and CJ McCollum had their way. They combined for 67 of their 111 points and were responsible for 12 of their 16 3-pointers.

“This wasn’t a normal loss,” said McCollum, whose seven 3s set a new career high. “We had the lead in double-digits, then they got aggressive … they finished the game and we didn’t. We have to do more.”

George scored 15 in a row for the Pacers over the final six minutes, and then Rodney Stuckey (six points) hit two foul shots to secure the seven-point victory.

“He played the way we need for him to play,” McMillan said of his three-time All-Star.

No play epitomized George’s effort in the game and late in this one where he was sure to have tired legs than when he willed himself to follow his own jumper that was off the mark with 33.9 seconds left, up by just three. He snatched it away from a defender and Myles Turner, and dunked it for the exclamation mark.

“I thought that rebound was just determination,” McMillan continued. “He kind of willed this win. He wanted it, you could see it in him.”

George, who attempted a season-high 27 field goals, made 13 of his shots — matching his season’s best. Five of his 13 field goals were from beyond the arc.

“He told me, ‘Coach I missed one and you go away from me.’ I said, ‘Well we’re coming back to you.’ In that situation, you are going to personalize where you want that ball to be down the stretch and when the game is on the line, we want that ball in Paul George’s hands,” said McMillan, who coached the Trail Blazers from 2006-12.

“This is year seven for me,” George said during his on-court postgame interview. “I’m supposed to be trusted in these situations. That’s when I want to deliver. That’s the guy I want to be for this team.”

The Pacers’ charter flight landed in Indy just after 2:00 am Saturday morning. George didn’t even both to unpack. His suitcase is still in his car.

He can get some rest and handle that on Sunday, an off day. Although with a previously scheduled appearance, George can’t lounge around his Geist home as he had hoped — and certainly deserved.

The Pacers host the Charlotte Hornets Monday night.

Note: Monta Ellis (10 points, 5 assists in 19 minutes) was bothered by a sore groin and did not play in the second half.

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