George Recaptures the Glory

Mark Montieth headshot
by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

January 15, 2014 | 12:15 a.m.

Was it the freshly-cut Nike logo in his hair?

The tape on the index finger of his shooting hand?

The fact he “repped it up” in his early pre-game warmup?

Who knows? More importantly, who cares? The Pacers have the luxury of not having to be overly concerned about the shooting accuracy of their leading scorer, since they seem to win with him or without him scoring a lot of points.

Regardless, it had to be comforting for them to see the previously slumping Paul George score 31 points in 34 minutes in a 116-92 victory over Sacramento at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday. George had hit just 41-of-118 shots (35 percent) in his previous seven games, an erroneous effort that couldn't be denied or excused.

“Yeah, it was a slump,” he said after hitting 10-of-18 shots against the Kings. “I wasn't shooting the ball well. I try to limit those, but some nights it's going to be like that, I guess.

“Tonight I got back into a rhythm.”

George started slowly, hitting 1-of-4 shots in the first quarter, but he gradually warmed up to the slump-busting challenge in the second quarter by focusing on the non-scoring elements of his game. Isolated against the Kings' 5-9 guard Isaiah Thomas in the second half of the period, he passed up a one-on-one opportunity and fired a crosscourt pass to George Hill for a 3-pointer from the right wing that provided a 48-38 lead. He followed by deflecting the ball from behind a Kings player to Hill, then raced downcourt and took a return pass from Hill for a breakaway dunk. Another turnover and a Lance Stephenson breakaway layup gave the Pacers a 52-38 lead and forced a Sacramento timeout. On the Pacers' next possession, George drained a 3-pointer for a 17-point lead.

George hit another more notable 3-pointer at the end of the third period. Isolated to go one-on-one, he shot too quickly and missed, allowing time for Marcus Thornton to hit a three with 3.2 seconds left. But that left time for George to bank in a running shot from 25 feet at the buzzer, leaving the Pacers with a 12-point lead.

Seizing the momentum, Frank Vogel drew up a play for George to open the fourth period, sending him off a couple of screens for a 3-pointer from the left wing on the first possession. That one gave the Pacers an 89-74 lead that quickly discouraged any Kings notions of a comeback.

George finished 4-of-7 from behind the 3-point line, a notable stat for a guy who had hit just 9-of-43 attempts over his seven-game dry spell. And here's another notable stat. He got to the foul line for eight attempts, his highest total since the Dec. 20 game against Houston. That was a reflection of his more aggressive, carefree approach, which helped set up the rest of his game.

George had been complaining after recent games about not getting calls from the referees, and he had a few gripes during Tuesday's game as well. But he made the Kings play him honestly.

“He's been aggressive the last couple of games,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Maybe he's getting calls, maybe he's not getting calls, but if you keep going to the basket you're going to get the calls, you're going to get better looks. I thought he got better looks tonight.

“You just have to play the game the right way. Attack the basket, play through contact and finish plays.”

So, George's revival probably wasn't due to the sponsor-pleasing cut in his hair. Or the tape on his index finger, which had fallen off during the previous game and he had said would be discarded. Perhaps it did have something to do with getting up more shots than usual in his personal warm-up session long before the game. Hard to say.

The point for the Pacers is that their leading scorer's points aren't all that crucial. Their balance is such that they have won about as often when he fails to reach his scoring average (12-3) as when he surpasses it (17-4). That was evident from the start of Tuesday's game, as each of the starters contributed a basket toward their 11-2 lead. It was even more evident afterward, when seven other players had scored at least nine points. Had George not shot as well or as often, someone else likely would have stepped forward, as they usually do.

For George, whose average was bumped up to 22.8 with Tuesday's performance, that means not having to worry much about scoring – which makes it easier for him to shoot well, and allows him to focus on other things when he's not.

“I'm never worried about the ball going in or out,” he said. “Of course I want to make shots, but I'm not worried if I need to score or not score. My thing is to make sure my defense is consistent. We have so many guys who can make baskets.”

Eight, actually. Which should be enough.

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