In his first playoff game in 688 days, Paul George reminded the collective NBA audience that out of sight isn’t out of mind and that he still is Paul George, superstar. He carried the Indiana Pacers to a road victory in Toronto by putting up a 27 point second half after he spent his half-time in the locker room studying film.
“I had to be smart. I know it’s going to be hard to score. It’s going to come down to me making big shots.”
Watching Paul George continually smother DeMar DeRozan was an out of body experience because it didn’t seem possible this was the same player that shattered his leg in a gruesome injury witnessed by millions on national television. Although George admits he will never be the same physical player he once was, he is a smarter player and he has matured. “I love the results”, he said, “I am where I want to be.”
Where the Pacers were in this game was overwhelming the Raptors, particularly their guards. They remained disciplined with their ball pressure and physicality. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan shot 8-32, 25%. They shot 10% from behind the arc.
Paul George said afterwards, ” I slowed the game down. Let everything develop. Slow my dribble. Make the right plays.”
George had a beautiful game: 33 points, 6 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks. He shot 54% and 80% from three while guarding DeMar DeRozan and limiting him to 21.4% on contested shots.
“It’s how I made my name in this league, wanting to guard the best player or match up against the best player,” George told reporters earlier this year. “That’s what I do. It’s fun to me. I don’t take it as it’s going to drain me or tire me out. It energizes me when I can get a stop on the best player. It gets me going when I can get a stop against the best guy on the other team.”
However, George cautioned he didn’t cause DeRozan to miss so many shots. His misses were shots that he usually makes that just didn’t go in.
A dying breed is the two-way player like Paul George. You can count them on one hand. Besides George there is LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard.
If George wanted to remind NBA fans of one thing, it is that superstar cred isn’t ripped away because you lose a year to injury. That year strained George.
“The biggest burden was not being able to get this group to the playoffs. I don’t want this team to get to the lottery and build. That was a burden I had on my shoulders. It means a lot to be back here, to be on this stage again”
Paul George is meant for big moments. “I love being the go-to guy.” That said, this year presented new challenges as George didn’t have the comfort of David West and Roy Hibbert. How he adapted to his new teammates and the faster pace of the Pacers determined what the Pacers ceiling was going to be. Even though they had an up and down year, for a team like the Pacers with defensive credentials, the playoffs are easier. You know who you are playing night in and night out. Your defense is elite enough to be able to shut down scorers. And the Raptors lack a superstar.
“I take a lot of pride in being our leader. I take pride in the outcome of games. I’m going to bring it, night in and night out. I’m going to be the guy that’s always going to bring it.” (Paul George)
It’s just the first game of the series and frankly the Raptors rite of passage is always to choke game one away.
George has grown up and his leadership style has been the beneficiary. He is aware all eyes are on him, all of the time. He plans to watch a lot of film because he expects DeMar DeRozan to come back big on Monday night. The Raptors are playing a must win game. They will have the pressure and all the emotion on their side. It will be a frenetic home crowd.
“This is a good team”, Paul George announced afterwards, referring to Toronto.
But not good enough on Saturday afternoon to stop Paul George.
photo via llananba