The Final Shot: Another Piece to the Stardom Puzzle for Paul George
March 5, 2014 | 12:15 a.m.
He took the last shot.
Ten minutes later, he sat alone next to his locker, still in uniform, elbows on his knees and hands on the back of his head, eyes staring at the floor and the final stat sheet in front of his feet.
“Warriors 98, Pacers 96” it read at the top.
Paul George had a chance to change that outcome with one flick of his wrist.
With 0.6 seconds remaining in regulation, he broke free off a Roy Hibbert screen, caught the inbounds pass and launched a three-pointer from deep beyond the arc on the left wing as time expired. It hit the back iron and bounced away, as did Indiana’s hope for a 30th home victory on the season.
“It was a good look,” Hibbert said. “ … I thought it was gonna go in, to tell you the truth.”
So did the sellout crowd of 18,165 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Warriors Coach Mark Jackson agreed that the score in the end could just as easily have read, “Pacers 99, Warriors 98.”
“George has great size, strength and length,” Jackson said. “So [the Pacers] created some action and he has the ability to go get the basketball … he got a good look. I live with the defense we played on that possession.”
Jackson would’ve lived with it either way, and fortunately for his squad, the ball fell harmlessly to the floor as Golden State celebrated and the Pacers felt the temporary sting of a heartbreaking loss.
The man who took the final shot will undoubtedly take many more. With his accelerated ascension to stardom continuing rapidly, George is having to learn what it means to be an elite player in the NBA more quickly than many others who have blazed that path before him. And taking the final shot with the game on the line is part of that learning curve.
A penny for your thoughts on this night, Paul?
“I feel like I got a great shot, a great look,” he said. “But when I’ve got a defender on me that I know I can beat, I’ve got to use that to my advantage. I just think I got a great look on the outside, but I should’ve took it to the basket when I know I can get around the defender.”
There were two Warriors chasing George – Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green – and both ended up bumping into each other just after George released the shot. George immediately lamented not trying to drive past them and create a higher-percentage attempt. But he said he wouldn’t be dwelling on the miss.
“I won’t think about it,” he said. “I’m going to watch it over and over again, just to see if I can do a better job of making sure I can make those.”
The 23-year-old will watch film of that shot over and over again so he can make it the next time; a sign of maturity to be sure. George has often spoken of reaching the rarified air of the two men who have set themselves apart as the best of the best in The Association, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. And George’s ability to take – and make – the crucial shot with the game hanging in the balance is part of the climb onto the mountain those two occupy. (Sorry, didn’t mean to make any sort of allusion to Mt. Rushmore; let’s not open that box again.)
Arguably the greatest basketball player of all time had something to say about the subject of missing a game-winner or two. What was it that Michael Jordan said about this subject?
“Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot – and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Where George’s game will be in two, five, ten years from now, we can’t know. But if his reaction to missing the game-winner Tuesday night is any indication of his mindset in crucial situations, there’s even more reason to believe he will reach greater and greater heights.
Pacers Coach Frank Vogel drew up the final play Tuesday with multiple options. “There was a lob look – David West was a look – and we screened for Paul,” he said.
But make no mistake: there’s no one else the Pacers would rather give the ball – and the immediate future – to, than George. And just as with everything else that has come with his rapid rise, George welcomes the responsibility.
“I’m very comfortable taking those shots,” he said. “I work on shooting and knocking down an array of shots like those. Unfortunately, this one didn’t fall.”
But even though it didn’t go, David West summed up what everyone on the floor was thinking in that moment.
“Coach got us a good look, drew up a good play,” West said. “We’ll take Paul shooting that shot 10 out of 10 times.”
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