George Walks the Fine Line

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by Mark Montieth |

November 21, 2012

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Young NBA players always trip over this fine line, like grade schoolers tumbling over an outstretched foot. How do you be assertive, but still let the game come to you? How do you play with confidence without being selfish?

Paul George has struggled with that dilemma, particularly this season in the absence of Danny Granger. His performance against New Orleans on Wednesday, however, suggested he might have hit on a winning formula. The bottom line: a franchise-record nine three-pointers in just 13 attempts, a career-high 37 points, and, equally relevant, zero turnovers.

Reggie Miller, who finished his career as the NBA's all-time three-point leader, had held the franchise single-game record by hitting eight three-pointers twice, most recently on March 28, 1997 in Charlotte. That was so long ago that the Hornets were playing out of that city – so long ago, in fact, that George was just six years old.

Miller was sufficiently moved by George's performance that he tweeted his congratulations after the Pacers' 115-107 overtime victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, adding "that's what I call ON FIRE!!!!!" George, meanwhile, was left nearly speechless by his accomplishment: "It's definitely an honor," he said. "I don't even know what to say to that."

George knew what to say when asked whether he had been putting too much pressure on himself to make up for the loss of Granger: a candid admission.

"I did," he said, looking up from the box score. "I took it upon myself that I had to play well every night. I think that's something that kind of messed me up in the head a little bit. When I had moments to score, I was speeding myself up; just the anxiety that I had to knock that shot down. Nights like this, when I can be comfortable and let the shot come to me is more my style of playing.

"Tonight I took whatever the defense instead of forcing things. I just have to calm down and play in a comfortable zone."

George found that zone in the second half. He was 0-of-2 from the three-point line at halftime, when the Pacers trailed by four points, but hit 4-of-6 in the third quarter, all three attempts in the fourth and both attempts in overtime. It was all the more impressive considering he had missed all 16 of his three-point attempts in the fourth quarter in the previous 12 games.

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Coach Frank Vogel reminded him of that when he put him back in the game with 8:24 left in the final period. "It's time for a new streak," Vogel told him.

George's first three-pointer of the quarter got the Pacers within one point with 3:06 left, and his second gave them a four-point lead with 1:17 remaining. The Hornets came back to tie the game on Al-Farouq Aminu's 16-footer jumper from the right baseline, a high-arcing shot that barely escaped George's right hand. The Pacers got off four shots on their final possession, one each from everyone in the lineup not named George.

George hit his eighth three-pointer 20 seconds into the overtime. New Orleans eventually got within four points, forcing a Pacers timeout with 1:58 left, but George hit his final three-pointer, the record-breaking ninth, to open a seven-point lead on their next possession.

It took all of George's historic performance to save the Pacers, who are still struggling to find a groove. They've won three of their four games since Vogel changed the offense last week, but remain, in his words "a work in progress."

They hit just 6-of-18 shots in the first quarter against the Hornets, and scored just six points in the first seven minutes of the fourth period. Roy Hibbert, who appears to be going through the same mental challenge as George, with a $58 million contract added to the mix, hit just 3-of-12 shots but came up with the 21st triple-double in the franchise's NBA history with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots. The defense was, in Vogel's word, "bad," allowing a parade of Hornets to the rim (which in part enabled Hibbert's block party), although it tightened up when necessary. The bench remains a mystery, as Vogel continues to search for combinations that work.

"Changing on the fly is a difficult thing to do," Vogel said. "We're taking the right steps. It's going to come."

A Friday arrival would be timely, as San Antonio comes to town. Of the Pacers' six victories, only one _ against Dallas – came against a team with a winning record as of now. San Antonio is 9-3, and defeated the Pacers by 22 points on Nov. 5.

The Pacers probably will need a lot of strong performances to win that one, but not necessarily another record-setting night from George. His challenge now is to follow up Wednesday's outburst with another good game against a better opponent, without forcing shots.

Perhaps he can seek counsel from the text messages he's been getting from Granger. They tell him to stay aggressive. But to slow down. But to take charge.

Simple, right?