Mahinmi puts team on his ailing back, Pacers tie series 2-2

In the first three games of the series, the Pacers offense was essentially a one-man show: Paul George. After losing two straight games, Pacers coach Frank Vogel had a simple message for his team: “Trust your teammates.”

“The message before the game was to really move the ball and play for each other,” Ian Mahinmi said. “That’s what we did from the very first minute.”

The results? The Pacers blitzed the Raptors early to a first-quarter lead of 28-14 and never looked back as they tied the series at 2-2 with a 100-83 victory.

“Everyone has to be options for us, offensive threats,” Paul George said after the game. “Tonight, they were, and we exploded on offense.”

The two biggest benefactors to the Pacers devotion to sharing the ball were Ian Mahinmi and George Hill, who went from scoring 40 points combined in the first three games to scoring 44 points combined (a team-high 22 points a piece) in game four as they both had perhaps their best games of the season.

“I can’t take credit for this today,” Mahinmi said of the best game of his career. “Most of my shots were dunks and shots under the rim … my teammates really did an awesome job of finding me.”

Mahinmi ended up with a career-high 22 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 5 assists. Oh, and he did all that while playing with an injured back.

“Ian is the story,” Carl Eaton, a long time Pacers athletic trainer, told Pacers Sideline Reporter Jeremiah Johnson. “One of the bravest things I’ve seen. What he’s going through just to play is amazing.”

Mahinmi didn’t elaborate on his routine with the trainers to get ready for the game when he was asked, but did say he was glad to have the extra day in between games and will spend a lot of time with the trainers.

Early in the fourth quarter, Mahinmi missed two straight open lay-ups where it looked like he was struggling to get any lift. Then, he did this:

“22, 10, and 5, you wouldn’t expect that from Ian,” said George. “He was amazing for us.”

One adjustment that opened up the paint for Mahinmi was Vogel reinserting Myles Turner back into the starting lineup.

Even though the 20-year-old rookie struggled with his shot, hitting only 2 of 13 shots, the Raptors still had to respect his scoring ability a lot more over Lavoy Allen, who went from starting to not in the rotation.

“Not to take anything from Lavoy,” said Mahinmi, “but having Myles behind me helps.”

With Turner creating more space for the Pacers to penetrate, Mahinmi was the beneficiary of numerous dump off passes after the Raptors center had to help off of him. Here’s an example with Ty Lawson putting the moves on Cory Joseph in the second quarter:

The much-maligned all bench lineup that struggled in the first three games was gone in game four as Vogel inserted Mahinmi along with Lawson, Rodney Stuckey, CJ Miles, and Solomon Hill.

“We put him defensively in there with that second unit to be sort of a middle linebacker and help manage that group to get stops,” said Vogel. “Just a great all-around performance.”

In game three the all-bench lineup added 10 points to the deficit in 5 minutes of the second quarter, but in game four the bench lineup with Mahinmi as the anchor increased the Pacers lead by 5 points over the first 5 minutes of the second quarter. A big shift in a stretch that has hurt in the Pacers in the first three games.

Mahinmi has shown vast improvement this season in all aspects of his game this season (he received three 3rd-place votes for Most Improved Player, which is no small feat for a defensive center in his 8th season), and yesterday’s game showed off all those areas where he’s improved to a national audience.

“He’s had a lot of games for us like this this year,” Vogel said. “He’s become a great finisher around the basket and we saw that tonight. He was big on the offensive glass and he’s a great, versatile defender. He gave us a lot of defensive punch.”

That defensive punch showed up against the Pacers toughest challenge so far in the series: Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas. After dominating on the glass in the first three games, Valanciunas only managed 6 rebounds in game four.

“He was our fearless leader,” Turner said of Mahinmi. “He literally put the team on his back.”

No wonder it hurts.

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