Paul George shoots a jumper against the Heat on January 8, 2013
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George Lets His Numbers Do the Talking

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

January 9, 2013 2:18AM

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Paul George wouldn't say it.

He had just scored 29 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and outplayed LeBron James in the Pacers' biggest win of the season, an 87-77 win over Miami.

Game Rewind: Pacers 87, Heat 77 »

But he wasn't going to say it was the most satisfying performance of his career. Wasn't going to say that it meant anything special to him after he had hit just 19-of-52 shots in that playoff loss to Miami last May. Wasn't going to say anything that might stick in James' memory the next time they meet.

“I don't want to put this game any higher than any other one,” he said following the win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday. “I'm just happy I came out and gave my team a chance to win. It was just a chance to challenge myself against a guy like Lebron, who's the best in this league right now. That's the only thing I took away from it.”

OK, it will have to be said for him. George was outstanding at both ends of the floor, and if this game doesn't solidify his chances of meeting his stated preseason goal of becoming an All-Star, nothing will. George took seven more shots than James, who scored 22 points, but had one more rebound and six fewer turnovers.

Yes, it was only one game. And no, George is not better than James. Still, it was an eye-opener, and a worthy topic of discussion for someone.

Coach?

“Paul George was sensational,” Frank Vogel said.

“He's becoming one of the best all-around players in the game.”

Now that's saying something. But look at it like this. George boosted his season scoring average to 16.7 points Tuesday, and is now the Pacers' leading scorer – by one point over David West. He's also one of the NBA's best defenders, has solid shooting percentages, rebounds his position well, ranks second on the team in assists and is just as good defensively as offensively.

“He's the leading scorer on the fourth-best team in the NBA and I think everyone has to ask the question, if Bruce Bowen was averaging 17 points a game and leading his team in scoring, would he be an all-star every year?” Vogel asked afterward. “Of course he would. Paul George is becoming the best defensive wing in the game and he impacts the game in a variety of ways.”

Bowen was a defensive specialist for San Antonio, whose career scoring average was 6.1 points. Vogel's point was that few players in the league play both ends as well as George. The Pacers, for one, have never had one so complete, other than Ron Artest, who averaged 18.3 points in the 2003-04 season while earning Defensive Player of the Year honors.

This should be said again, too. George is 22 years old.

George had just seven points, on 3-of-10 shooting, at halftime, but scored 22 on 9-of-17 shooting in the second half. He scored eight of the Pacers' first 13 points in the fourth quarter, helping boost a 10-point lead to 13.

Afterward, he sat back in the chair in front of his locker and patiently and unemotionally fielded every question. When not deflecting conversation about his individual performance, he praised the team defense that held Dwayne Wade to seven second-half points (after Wade had scored 23 in the first half), and talked of the need to continue sharing the ball.

That comes naturally for him, but also qualifies as a savvy move because he'll see James twice more this season, if not again in the playoffs. He knows what can happen when a superstar is outplayed.

“Hey, you know LeBron's going to go for 50 the next time you see him, right?” a Miami-based reporter jokingly shouted across the press room afterward. Consider that fair warning that George doesn't need to be told.

George wasn't the only Pacer to have the most meaningful game of his career Tuesday. Lance Stephenson scored 13 points and played 26 minutes without committing a turnover.

“I was very excited,” Stephenson said, smiling. “I couldn't wait for this game. I kept looking at the schedule and said, 'I can't wait to play this game.' And now here we are.”

The Heat challenged Stephenson, who defended Wade at the start of the game. Wade posted up and on the second and third possessions scored five points and drew a foul. Stephenson gave back, though, scoring seven first-quarter points of his own. And when he picked up his fourth foul with 7:40 left in the third quarter, Vogel stuck with him. Stephenson paid back the coach by hitting two three-pointers over the next two minutes, leading the charge that turned a seven-point deficit to a two-point lead that held up the rest of the game. Wade, meanwhile, didn't attempt a shot in the third quarter, and scored seven in the fourth on 1-of-4 shooting from the field.

“He told me he trusted me,” Stephenson said of Vogel's decision. “He just said don't reach and play him to the baseline because there was help there.”

The bottom line for the Pacers: a victory over a healthy defending champion despite the absence of Danny Granger and the virtual absence of flu-ridden point guard George Hill, who went scoreless in 23 minutes. A victory that included two momentous performances from a pair of 22-year-olds.

There's something to be said for that.

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