What’s different about the Indiana Pacers this season compared to the team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season? Not much, but it seems like Paul George, taking yet another step forward in his overall game, finally gives them a true, reliable and clutch superstar to carry the team when the going gets tough.
With their 105-100 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Pacers improve to 16-1, including 7-1 on the road, their only loss coming against the Chicago Bulls. The Pacers became the first team since the Dallas Mavericks in 2002-2003 to win 16 of their first 17 games. This is also the 13th time this is happened in NBA history, with the previous 12 teams all making the postseason; seven of them making the NBA finals and five of them winning it all.
Looking at that one play that made the difference, you can look to Chris Paul, the go to guy for the Clippers (scoring 17 points and adding 10 assists) missing a bank shot with 31 seconds left as the Pacers were holding on to a two-point lead. The Clippers didn’t score again, and the Pacers went out to close the game.
Paul George for MVP? Not yet, but it’s hard to find anyone playing better basketball than him right now. George scored 27 points, averaging 23.8 points this season while shooting 47% from the field, which is quite different from the inconsistent shooter we saw last season. This year it seems a lot more like the complete package everyone expected from George to deliver at some stage. With every game that goes by while Danny Granger sits out as his career slips away, the voices calling for Granger to be traded two years ago so George can take over seem smarter and smarter.
It’s not all George, obviously. While the Los Angeles Clippers look like something similar to the Pacers of old – a strong team all around but without a player who can pull them forward in the final quarter with some individual scoring, the Pacers have George to lead the way, with plenty of talent around him. Even without anything coming from the bench, the Pacers got what they needed from the lineup – David West scored 24 points, Roy Hibbert added 19 in one of his better offensive games of the season, as the Pacers won with their usual dominance under the boards (50-41) and simply smarter basketball that doesn’t rely so much on one player making all the decisions.
Paul George – We can become a lot better. We’re still nowhere close to where we want to be offensively, and that’s the next step for us. The defense is clicking well, the transition defense is clicking well, and we’re playing like a team. This was a great win for us. We knew coming in that it was going to be a hard-fought game.