When all else fails, get in the gym.
Paul George had struggled with his shooting over the first four games, hitting just one-third of his field goal attempts and one-fifth of his 3-point attempts. Hardly the work of a league MVP candidate, which he considers himself to be.
So, despite getting to bed early Wednesday morning following Tuesday's win in Detroit, George arrived at Bankers Life Fieldhouse about 2:30 and put up 300-400 shots with the help of a rebounding member of the training staff. The results were crucial to the Pacers' 100-98 victory over Boston, and a relief to him.
George finished with 26 points on 8-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-11 3-point shots, along with 10 rebounds and one particularly essential defensive effort in his best performance of the season – his best performance since May of 2014, in fact, when he was playing in the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I didn't feel I was shooting enough outside of what we (normally) do," George said.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for the Pacers about George's point total was that it didn't come in a fluky flurry, but had a trickle-down effect. He scored eight points in the first quarter, then seven, then six and then five. He got most of his shots within the flow of the offense, rather than having to try to create off the dribble, as had been the norm.
The smaller spread offense could benefit him in the long run, but so far has thrown a learning curve at him. There aren't as many picks set for him, and the ones he gets (1) come from smaller players who don't set screens as effectively as the likes of David West and Roy Hibbert and (2) don't leave him with an exploitable big man guarding him if the defenders switch.
"Our offense is all randomness," George said. "I've been so good the past four or five years because I knew our offense. I knew where my shots were going to come from. I was comfortable with the shots I was going to get.
"Now it's street ball. It's organized street ball. It's a lot more organized than that, but it's just complete randomness out there. You just have to find your way. I'm learning where the shots are going to come from now. I'm still a long ways away."
The Pacers appeared to get closer to their intended offense on Thursday, as five players reached double figures and Jordan Hill (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Glenn Robinson III (10 points) made new and notable contributions. Hill and Lavoy Allen started because center Ian Mahinmi missed the game with a sore lower back, and Robinson got his first meaningful minutes because starting wing C.J. Miles had a sore right ankle.
The adjusted lineups and rotations didn't disrupt the Pacers' offense too badly, although George and Monta Ellis (13 points, eight assists) were the only players to finish with a positive plus-minus ranking.
Five games into the season, the bench strength appears to be better than in any recent season, and veteran Solomon Hill and promising rookie Joe Young haven't even been tapped.
"We struggled with that over the years when one of our core guys went down, where were we going to find the push from the next man?" George said. "We've got that with this unit."
The Pacers needed one final defensive push to get this win, however. Ellis finished the scoring with two foul shots with 13.7 seconds left, giving the Celtics the final possession after a 20-second timeout. They were looking for shots from Isaiah Thomas or Avery Bradley, who combined for 48 points, but George and George Hill used their length and quickness to suffocate them on the perimeter. Bradley wound up flinging a 3-pointer with George and Hill rushing at him, Hill apparently getting a finger on the shot.
"George Hill played amazing defense," Bradley said. "I think it still hit the rim. If he didn't get his hand on it, it might have gone in.
The Pacers' defense could improve further if Robinson becomes a regular in the rotation. Maybe the offense too, for that matter. Robinson, who injured his shoulder in practice shortly before the season began, played more than 19 minutes in this one because of Miles' injury. Coach Frank Vogel had enough faith in him to put him on the court for the Pacers' final possession, which led to Ellis' free throws.
Miles' injury isn't serious, so Vogel will have a full plate of wings to ponder when everyone is available.
"That's a good thing," Vogel said. "I like what a lot of our wings are doing. (Robinson) keeps playing like that, we have to find minutes for him."
Said Robinson: "Next man up. I just wanted to go out there and provide a spark."
George expects more than a spark in seasons ahead, if not sooner.
"He's in a bad predicament with so many veterans ahead of him, but he's doing an unbelievable job of learning and staying ready, being a sponge and asking questions," George said. "We've got a good one. When he gets another year or so under his belt – maybe a lot less than that – he's going to be ready. He's a special player."
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