George Feeling Optimistic About Game 3 Return

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by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 23

Editor's Note: This story was written just prior to the announcement that Paul George passed the NBA’s Return-to-Participation Exertion Protocol as part of the NBA’s Concussion Policy. But, It still has a lot of good information we think you will enjoy.

His teammates are calling him Peyton, because of that red half-jersey he's wearing to remind them he's off-limits for contact during practice.

“That's perfect,” Paul George said, smiling. “I'll wear this until the end of the year.”

George hopes – expects, even – to be available for any and all contact that will come in Game 3 of the Pacers' Eastern Conference Finals playoff series with Miami on Saturday. Red jerseys won't be honored in that game, so he'll have to complete the NBA's concussion protocol, which has kept him out of most of the practices and requires him to pass six 30-minute tests for exertion and agility, before he's cleared to play.

George, who was hit in the head three different ways by Heat guard Dwyane Wade during the fourth quarter of Game 2 on Tuesday, after he had deflected the ball from Wade and dived to retrieve it, still has more tests to pass on Saturday. The final one is to compete in a practice without showing any effects of his injury, so his status won't be known until Saturday afternoon at the earliest.

George appeared to be fine, however, as he shot following Friday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and talked with reporters afterward. Asked for a percentage on the odds that he'll play, he said, “I'd like to say one-hundred.” He said if he could do it over again, he wouldn't have commented on his injury when talking with reporters after Tuesday's game.

“Going forward, I'll keep that between myself and the training staff," he said.

George suffered his injury with 6:50 left in Tuesday's game. The Pacers led by four points at the time, a lead that had been enhanced by George's 29-foot three-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer with 7:18 left. He had hit just 1-of-11 shots in the first half, but had hit two-of-three in the third quarter, including another three-pointer.

After George's injury, he committed a passing error with 3:04 left and hit one of two foul shots with 40 seconds remaining.

“I was starting to knock down some shots (before the injury),” George said. “I didn't get a shot for the final (seven) minutes. I do feel it had an effect on how the game ended.”

If George passes the protocol, he might have to contend with fatigue because of the game-day tests. George Hill, who suffered a concussion in last season's playoff series with New York, has cited that as a factor when he returned. Hill, who sat out Game 5, played 42 minutes in Game 6 but hit just 2-of-10 shots, including 1-of-6 three-pointers, as the Pacers wrapped up the series.

“That's certainly a concern,” Vogel said.

Saturday's 8:30 p.m. starting time could help George get adequate rest for the game.

“I'm going to approach it the best way I can to make sure I can finish the tests as well as get rest in time to be able to play Saturday night,” he said.

There is scant precedent for playing without George. He only sat out two games during the regular season, and those were the games (at Milwaukee and Orlando) in which all the starters were rested. His absence likely would be felt most on defense, where he is assigned to Miami's leading scorer, LeBron James.

Vogel did not say who would start in George's place if he is not allowed to play, but the Pacers continue to express confidence they could win without their leading scorer and two-time All-Star. George is among them.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said. “We've got so many weapons on this team. When one guy goes down, this team comes together.”

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