Posted May 19 2012 10:54AM
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George got some attention at the start of this NBA season through no fault or credit of his own. It was due way more to Paul and Paulette George, his parent, and the vertical physiology that runs through their family.
Daughter Teiosha, after all, played basketball at Pepperdine. Daughter Portola played volleyball at CSU-San Bernardino. And son Paul was doing fine at elevated heights, too, as a 6-foot-8 wing player who averaged 7.8 points and 3.7 rebounds as a rookie for the Indiana Pacers. George blossomed some in the team's first-round series against Chicago a year ago, logging long minutes and even pestering MVP guard Derrick Rose with his length and wingspan.
George went home to California for the summer. The lockout ensued. And by the time he reported for duty again, the Pacers noticed something different about him: George had grown. About an inch and a half, to be specific, pushing him close to 6-foot-10 but leaving him with the same tantalizing open-court skills that convinced Indiana to grab him out of Fresno State with the No. 10 pick in the 2010 draft.
It made sense: George only turned 22 during the first round of these playoffs, so he wasn't too old for a growth spurt. So now he was a little lengthier, his wingspan darn-near pterodactyl. That made him even more of a defensive stopper and his offensive skills came along nicely in his second season as well: 12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.6 steals per game and big bumps in 3-pointers and foul shooting, both in volume and accuracy.
George gets listed at 6-9 now and the view from up there is outstanding, with Indiana up 2-1 in its Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Miami Heat, with Game 4 Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"My growing has stopped," George said after a morning practice the other day. "For right now."
Actually, George's growth has accelerated in this postseason. He had a spotty series offensively against Orlando -- 9.4 ppg, 2-of-17 on 3-pointers -- but he was helpful chasing after the perimeter-oriented Magic. Then George's eyes got wide, his nerves a little too busy, in the opener against Miami, the biggest game of his young career against some of the NBA's biggest names. He made only one of his five shots, scored six points, got into foul trouble and finally fouled out, the Pacers losing by nine. His man, Dwyane Wade, scored 29 points, 13 from the line.
"We've got to work on defending without fouling," George said. "We feel like we gave this one away."
Two nights later, George looked more comfortable and stuck around longer. Enough with the tentative wanderings inside -- he went stronger to the rim, as a Slam Dunk contestant should. He grabbed 11 rebounds, hit two of his four shots from the arc, had three steals, fouled four times and, with 10 points, closed the scoring gap between him and Wade from 23 points to 14. The Pacers won by three.
"He's someone that I've thought highly of," George said, "but I think you can see in Game 1 that I gave him too much respect. In Game 2, I was still a respectful man but at the same time, he's got to earn it."
Then came Thursday, and Indiana's 94-75 victory. George played more than 33 minutes with only one foul. His line on the scoresheet wasn't striking, until you looked at the one above in the same position for Miami. George scored nine points. Wade scored five. The Heat shooting guard shot 2-of-13, was scoreless in the first half, snapped at his coach during a timeout and never looked comfortable.
Some of that was on Wade, who didn't attack with his familiar passion and appeared hesitant on the perimeter. But some of that was due to George and his quickness (to stay with Wade), his length (to stay back yet still challenge shots) and his effort (to embrace this challenge of tormenting a future Hall of Famer).
"Paul George is one of the top five most versatile defenders in the NBA and he's doing a great job on Wade," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Wade had an off night. When he did get free, he didn't knock down shots. ... He's too good of a player to have too many nights like he had tonight, but Paul is just competing. He's growing by the day and we're just happy about what his future looks like."
See, George still is growing. While Wade is growing older, crankier and -- a distinct possibility for Game 4 -- more determined to shut up a lot of people in and around this series.
George expects to face the best Wade available at this point, given his drive and the Heat's desperation. So he accepts the conventional wisdom that, because he'll be focusing so much of his effort on the defensive end, his scoring and open-court play might continue to suffer. Teammate Danny Granger has been locked in a similar situation while defending LeBron James, who also requires constant vigiliance (effective or otherwise).
But it's not a tradeoff George plans to make for much longer. Sometimes the best defense can be a good offense, making the superstar work just as hard at both ends.
"I've got guys on my team who are scorers and go-to's right now," George said. "So defense is the part that I have to pick up, in slowing those guys down. That's a successful game for me -- as well as rebounding. Anything else is, I guess, extra.
"But the type of career I want to have, I want to do both. Right now, it has taken a lot of energy out of me when it comes down to trying to make shots. But the greats did it -- Kobe did it, Jordan did it, [Scottie] Pippen. Those were guys who would stop you as well as score on you."
So George might be done growing after all. But his game and his ambitions are not.
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