The Dunk That Changed the Game

by Manny Randhawa

November 25, 2013

The Pacers were frustrated.

It was nearing the end of the third quarter of Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and whistle after referee whistle pierced the air at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Foul after foul, the Timberwolves kept themselves in a game they had no business being close in despite shooting in the low 30-percent range from the field all night.

Minnesota attempted 28 free-throws in all, most of them in the first three quarters. They outscored the Pacers from the charity stripe, 23-10.

Indiana had racked up fouls of the technical variety, too – three of them handed out to head coach Frank Vogel, David West and George Hill throughout the course of the night.

And to make matters worse, the Pacers were clinging to a one-point lead.

But something happened at the 2:48 mark of the third quarter.

That’s when Paul George used his now famous wingspan to deflect a pass that was barely out of Kevin Martin’s hands en route to Kevin Love. George sprinted after the basketball, took hold of it and threw down a windmill dunk at the other end that brought the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd to its feet.

“The game was kind of stuck,” said Luis Scola of the moment. “So we needed a good play to get it going. And we did get a good play.”

The jam sent shockwaves pulsating through the arena, and they were undoubtedly felt by the visitors. The Pacers went on a 20-4 run from there and never looked back, improving to 8-0 at home and 13-1 overall with a 98-84 victory.

The complexion of the game had been drastically altered with the dunk. The Pacers had been in a rut, shooting fairly well as a team from the field – ending with a 50 percent clip on the night, collectively – and holding Minnesota in the low-30’s, but unable to jar themselves loose and break away from their opponents because of their foul issues.

David West said that the brand of basketball the Pacers play can in some cases take some time for referees to get used to.

“Sometimes it takes officials time to adjust to how hard we play defensively and how active we are,” West said. “I thought we stayed with who we were.”

Who the Pacers are is a defense-first team. And though the George dunk was spectacular enough to stand on its own in a highlight reel, it was the defensive play that created the fast-break chance that symbolized what was to come for Indiana.

“I really wanted to bring the pressure on the defensive end,” George said of his steadfast mentality even amid the barrage of foul calls. “We came down and in crunch time, really locked-down. We got a lot of steals, a lot of easy offense and a lot of transition baskets that led to us breaking away from them.”

And it all started with the windmill, a dunk that was a release of emotion from George that appeared to be cathartic for the entire team.

“The dunk got everybody hyped and energized,” Lance Stephenson said. “After he did that, we all locked in and began forcing steals and getting fast-break dunks. And that’s what won the game.”

“That was a great momentum play,” said Ian Mahinmi, who had a steal and two blocks off the bench. “I think that after that, we turned the jets on and we were able to run and get easy buckets. So he started something good for us.”

George Hill, who had a season-high 26 points in the game, said what George did was more than a fast-break dunk.

“He put a little bit of extra swag on that dunk,” Hill said. “I feel like when he takes a chance like that, he’s all in. His cards are all in. And he’s been doing a great job of really doing that and leading. And we feed off his energy.”

For the one player on this Pacers team that is looked upon as its star, the moment was perhaps even more significant in terms of the bigger picture. When Indiana needs a stop, a spark, a single play that can change the trajectory of a basketball game, they can look to No. 24. Because he did all of those things in one breakaway basket Monday night.

“It was just a lot of built-up anger going on,” George said of the team’s emotional state before his big play. “I knew we needed some momentum. So when that fast-break happened, I took out the anger that was built up.”

The anger had been released, and it had been converted into fuel as the ball tore through the net. The basket itself counted for two points, but it meant more than that, and George knew it.

“[I knew] it needed to be more than just putting the ball in the basket,” he said.

It was much more. In a sense, that dunk wasn’t worth two points. It was worth 13, because from the 2:48 mark in the third quarter, a shaky one-point Pacers lead transformed into a 14-point Pacers win.

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