It took him about a month, but Paul George is finally playing like the player the Indiana Pacers need him to be. So good, he even gets to outplay LeBron James when the two faced off.
It’s not like George has turned into a consistent scorer from the outside all of a sudden, still having too many nights of single digit scoring (like the previous two games) and awful shooting, so far 38.7% in January. But the important thing for George and the Pacers, who have won 11 of their last 14 games, taking a hold of the Central division, is that George makes them forget Danny Granger isn’t playing.
Since scoring 0 points against Golden State Warriors on the first game of December, George is averaging 19.8 points per game, and his shooting through November was at 45.8% from the field. His defense has always been excellent, but he’s finally making better decisions on offense, and missing open shots less and less.
Defense is the first thing that comes to mind with the Pacers, who limited the Miami Heat to 77 points and 41.2% from the field. They kept the Heat at their worst this season from inside 5-feet, making only 7 of their 16 shots, despite being the best in the NBA going into the game from close range with 65.5%, 33.1 points per game and 32.2% of their total points. Against the Pacers, their 14 points were a season low from that range.
The transition defense was even better for the Pacers, eliminating the biggest advantage the Miami Heat have. The Heat usually make 59.9% of their field goals in transition, averaging 1.24 points per play and 16.8 points per game. Against the Pacers, all they got from transition was one point, missing all of their field goals. We’re not even mentioning the rebounding, which has been an issue for the Heat all season, losing 55-36 and allowing the Pacers 22 offensive boards.
While there wasn’t a lot of “pretty” on the Pacers offense (their rarely is), it was efficient enough with its ball movement and good shots to take advantage of their defensive success, much like the Memphis Grizzlies usually do, just with a little more inside power. George finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds while Roy Hibbert, who was having a tough day scoring (only six points, 3-12 from the field) finished with 14 boards, including nine offensive.
The Heat just couldn’t get their offense going, reminding people of their early troubles against the Pacers in last season’s playoffs before LeBron James erupted with three massive games.
James finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists, shooting 10-20 from the field. The big problem for the Heat was getting anyone invloved besides the big three: Dwyane Wade finished with 30 points but only 7 in the second half. Chris Bosh added 14. The rest of the Heat? Only 11 points, and a pathetic 17.3% from the field, including 0-5 from Ray Allen.
The Pacers simply locked down on Wade, who made most things happen for the Heat in the first half: he was involved in 42.8% of the team’s playing through the first 24 minutes but only 20.8% in the second half, leading to the Heat being outscored by 10 points.
There’s a rivalry and some animosity between these two teams. James spoke before the game about the arrogant bunch from Indiana. Paul George just wanted to show what he can do against the best in the league. It’s a chance to for me to see where I’m at, going against one of the best, if not, the best in the league. Another challenge to myself to go at LeBron. I definitely wanted to battle him.