Admit it. Deep down, you thought the Pacers were going to lose today against the defending champs. Well, not if Paul George had anything to say about it.
The second-year player broke out today for a career high 30 points, including 7 treys, plus 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals and a block with no turnovers in a game high 41 minutes as the Pacers dominated the second half en route to a 98-87 victory. Yes, the Pacers are now 16-6 and 10-5 on the road for the season.
In actuality, it was a team effort. David West was in beast mode again with 20 points on 9-11 shooting. Danny Granger had 16 but shot poorly (5-18), but the shots he did hit were big, making the poor percentage seem less painful than it really was. Big Roy Hibbert struggled from the field to score only 9 points, but had 14 rebounds and a couple of blocks.
The real concern for the Pacers was the bench (again), which is really starting to make me doubt those boasts about having one of the deepest benches in the league. With George Hill out with injury, all eyes were on Tyler Hansbrough (as the team's "7th starter") to produce, but Psycho-T was atrocious again, racking up a team high -15 on the plus/minus chart and scoring only one point on a free throw. It's quite baffling because Hansbrough was on fire during the shortened pre-season and was said to be ready for a solid season as West's back up, a position most believed he would thrive in.
The entire bench was pretty awful, actually, combining for a total of 10 points and 3 turnovers on 4-14 shooting.
Nevertheless, when it's all said and done, this game was Paul George's coming out party. At 6'10", with freakishly long arms, superb athleticism, a silky smooth finishing ability, and now with a deadly outside shot to go with his cool demeanor and diligent work ethic, PG is destined for great things. In fact, it's arguable that PG has been on a bit of a roll over the last few games.
Against the Timberwolves he had 10 points in the first half before foul trouble kept him on the bench for the majority of the game. The game before that, against the Nets, he had a (previous) career high of 24 points on 8-11 shooting, including 4-6 from 3-point range and that sick reverse jam replayed over and over on TV. And with the team winning, no wonder his confidence is sky high.
"I've grown into a confident player. I feel like I can knock down any shot," he said after the game. "I've got a comfort level out there right now."
The question really is how long PG can keep this up and how much more he can develop. Remember when he was drafted by the Pacers at No. 10, a lot of people were against it because he supposedly played the same position as Danny Granger. But looking at the way he has been progressing, it is highly likely that George will catch up to and eventually surpass Granger as the best player on the team. For starters, he plays more consistently at both ends than Danny and has the potential to be a genuinely lock down defender. He is taller, longer and more athletic. Is an All-Star selection within the next 3 years out of the question?
While Granger developed a vocal bravado (that often gets the best of him) as the young leader of a struggling team, George has had the opportunity (some would say luxury) to slowly grow into his game at his own pace. He simply keeps his head down and works hard without getting into any of the unnecessary stuff, and it's starting to pay dividends.
Of course, he still needs to become more consistent, grow a lot stronger and perfect his finishing ability, especially at the rim, plus he needs to work on his ball handling and passing, the weaker areas of his game. However, right now PG is way ahead of where he is supposed to be on the progression curve.
Up next, the Orlando Magic back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Again, I don't expect the Pacers to win, but I hope they can keep surprising me.