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Paul George Delivers Historic Performance

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

April 21, 2013, 7:35 PM

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Atlanta had been warned. Paul George had stated his intention as early as last Thursday, for all the world to hear.

“I definitely want to be in attack mode,” he said, following the Pacers' first postseason practice. “Throughout this whole series, I want to be on the attack and get in the lane and finish at the rim and get to the line and find guys on penetration.”

Nothing like telling your opponent what you're going to do, and then doing it. George attacked, got to the line and found so many open teammates off his penetration that he rang up the second triple-double in the Pacers' NBA history on Sunday, with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. He and his teammates were so dominant in their 107-90 victory over the Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that their greatest challenge now is to avoid complacency in Game 2 on Wednesday.

There was nothing complacent about George's performance, which provided another breakthrough for him in a season full of them. He had yet to produce a memorable playoff game in his first two seasons with the team. Now he's got one for the ages, just as he anticipated.

“I told myself, this whole playoff run I'm going to leave everything on the floor,” he said afterward.

Perhaps this is an appropriate time to offer a reminder: George does not turn 23 until May 2.

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Mark Jackson is the only other NBA Pacer to manage a triple-double in the playoffs. That one came on May 13, 1998, when the Pacers closed out the Knicks at Market Square Arena in Game 5 of a second-round series – a game that stands out as one of the franchise's all-time homecourt postseason highlights, seeing that most of them have come on the road.

Jackson, 33 at the time, controlled that game like a symphony conductor, with 22 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists. But that game was so long ago that Jalen Rose was still coming off the bench for the Pacers. That game was so long ago that Allan Houston was still the leading scorer for the Knicks. That game was so long ago that back in Palmdale, Calif., a kid named Paul George had just turned eight years old.

George introduced a different brand of triple-double: one where you shoot poorly but get to the foul line so often you can't help but score in double figures. George hit just 3-of-13 field goal attempts, and missed all five three-pointers, but hit all but one of his 18 foul shots. That's supremely significant for the Pacers, because if he continues to play with that level of aggressiveness, the Hawks have no answer for him.

George had announced his plan to attack, but 18 free throw attempts was over the top for a guy who had attempted more than 10 in just one game throughout the regular season ... who had failed to shoot even one in four games ... who had averaged just 3.5 attempts per game this season ... who had shot just 28 in 371 minutes of playoff action last season.

“It was just my whole mindset,” he said. “I just told myself to get to the free throw line and stay in attack mode. I didn't shoot as well as I wanted to tonight, but … jump shots are going to come and go. Where I have to get better is attacking more and getting to the line.”

Yeah, he pretty much accomplished that. George had seven rebounds in the first quarter, 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists by halftime, and was just two rebounds short of his triple-double after the third quarter. The elusive 10th rebound came with 4:25 left, when he dove on the floor and tipped the long rebound of David West's missed shot to Lance Stephenson, who fed West for a layup that gave the Pacers a 97-86 lead.

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George added a gimme defensive rebound off Josh Smith's missed foul shot moments later, then exited to a standing ovation with 40.3 seconds left, having put in a full day's work in just 44 minutes and one second.

“He was all over the place tonight,” Vogel said. “That's who Paul George is. He makes the All-Star team not because he's averaging 28 a game, like (Kevin) Durant or Carmelo (Anthony), but he's one of the most complete players in the game. He impacts the game in so many different ways. Defense, rebounding steals, blocks, offensive rebounds, three-point shooting, getting to the free throw line, the extra pass. He's one of the most complete players in the game.”

George's triple-double was the kind that snuck up on you. He wasn't hitting shots early – in fact, he never did – so his other contributions went unnoticed until later in the game. Free throws aren't dramatic, but they count just the same. The fact he drew so many fouls kept Atlanta from running, a crucial element to the game. Atlanta scored more points off fastbreaks than any team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, and the Pacers ranked last. But the Hawks were neutralized on Sunday, scoring just two more points on fastbreaks than the Pacers.

Thanks mostly to George.

“I thought he made the right plays,” West said. “Made a lot of positive plays with the ball in his hands. That's what he has to do, he knows that. I didn't realize he was having that kind of game. But he was just being solid, putting pressure on them. When they have to defend us, work hard on defense and take the ball out of the net, it cuts down on them being able to run on us.”

The only thing wrong with George's performance was that he set the bar awfully high for himself. Turn in a triple-double in a close-out game, as Jackson did, and you're a hero. George merely raised expectations.

“I know what the team will be expecting from me now,” he said afterward, smiling. “I like the pressure. I want to continue to hold up under the pressure. Hopefully my teammates will know I'll do whatever it takes for us to advance.”

What he did Sunday will be enough.

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