In a remarkable comeback from the severe leg injury he suffered in the summer of 2014 while playing for Team USA, Paul George has been on fire so far this season. And he burned the Los Angeles Lakers for 39 points to pace the Indiana Pacers to a 107-103 win in Los Angeles.
It was a somewhat bizarre contest with the Pacers establishing an early 22-point lead, thereby assuming that the game was already won. But the Lakers refused to fold, and in the fourth quarter Jordan Clarkson and Nick Young took advantage of Indiana’s laissez-faire defense and careless offense to eventually narrow the deficit to a single digit. But in the end, it was no surprise when Paul George sealed the win.
So, then, let’s take a close look at PG, who’s been recording LeBron-like stats from the get-go.
MINUTES PLAYED = 37
He only played 16 minutes in the first half and, when it seemed that the Pacers were en route to a wall-to-wall blowout, the expectation was that George might only log 30 minutes or so while the subs cavorted in extended garbage time. This scenario, of course, failed to materialize so PG was forced to be on-court for 21 of the remaining 24 minutes — a long but necessary stint.
FGM-A = 10-21
On his two-point attempts, George was 5-11 or 45.4 percent — which was slightly lower than the 46.2 percent of these shots he’s been converting through Indiana’s initial 15 games.
The Pacers ran several plays for George: Setting up two staggered screens on the weak side for him to curl around and either rub-off his defender or create an advantageous switch. On one sequence, PG was supplied with three such screens. All of these maneuvers were designed to create sufficient space for him to catch-and-shoot. Because of his quick release and solid footwork, George only needs a half-step advantage to get his shot off.
The Pacers also employed a four-man weave, with George (the only non-weaver) sneaking undefended to the rim from the weak side, receiving an incoming pass and scoring an easy layup.
PG also used one screen twice – -making a dive-cut off a high screen, then cutting back up top when the same screener made a pin-down screen.
The offensive game plan also had George snaking around baseline screens.
That’s a significant package for opponents to prepare for.
Most often, he’d face his defender and make rapid crossover dribbles along with faked jab-steps, trying to catch his man off-balance. He doesn’t have break-down quickness with the ball, so only a pair of George’s two-pointers came on drives to the hoop. Indeed his favorite move is to drive left into the paint, bump his defender with his right shoulder, then launch a step-back jumper.
And he does like to shoot as evidenced by the several times that he clapped his hands to call his teammates’ attention to his being wide open. However, his teammates never looked his way whenever this happened.
3PM-A = 5-10
This was slightly above the 45 percent he’d been making from the outskirts.
Several of PG’s makes came in early-offense situations when he ran to any open spot beyond the arc. A few came when he received passes after curling around the proffered screens. One three-pointer was netted when George received a hand-off. In truth (and not unlike Stephen Curry), PG is capable of hitting treys from anywhere at any time.
FTM-A = 14-17
In the final 22 seconds of the game, when the Lakers were oh so close but forced to foul — hoping that the foulee would shoot blanks — George was 7-8 from the stripe, icing the game.
REB = 4
Half his usual total, but among these was a tough defensive rebound in the fourth quarter that helped stem LAL’s furious comeback.
AST = 1
A willing passer, PG normally registers 4.6 per outing. His lone assist came on a nifty bounce pass that enabled a back-cutting Jordan Hill to score an unimpeded layup.
In addition, four more of George’s passes generated open shots that his teammates missed.
STL = 2
One came when he tipped and recovered a lazy pass. The other came after a Pacers’ score when he intercepted the Lakers’ in-bound pass. PG then dribbled once to get beyond the arc then drilled a trey.
Although he made only a single steal in his half-court defense, George was always alert and ready to jump into passing lanes.
BLK = 1
Hmmm … If he did block a shot, I never saw it, nor was it recorded on play-by-play stats. But PG did have one of his own layups blocked by Roy Hibbert.
TO = 4
#1 Metta World Pease tapped away PG’s dribble from behind and then recovered the ball.
#2 George was dribbling left, before twisting around in mid-air and throwing an errant pass to his right.
#3 Dribbled to the rim then lost control as the ball bounced out of bounds.
#4 Threw a pass that a cutting Ian Mahinmi should have caught.
PF = 1
Hacked MWP who overpowered him on a baseline drive.
PTS = 39
17 of which came in the fourth quarter. And significantly above his 27.2 per-game average. Yet not especially surprising given that MWP was the only accomplished defender who opposed him. Not counting the gimme free throws in the last few seconds, PG tallied only nine points when guarded by MWP.
George was immune to all of Kobe’s fakes — holding his ground and forcing Bryant to miss several subsequent jumpers. Terrific discipline here.
PG yielded 11 points in direct man-to-man confrontations — six by Kobe, two by MWP and a long three-ball by Nick Young.
George was repeatedly bullied by MWP — and was even sent sprawling (no foul called) when MWP took him into the low post. MWP also shrugged off PG’s futile attempts to box him off the defensive glass.
PG was seldom required to make interior defensive rotations and those he did make were done rather casually. In one sequence there was a defensive switch and he was asked to two-time Kobe — but PG failed to properly close the seal, allowing Kobe to split the double-team and score.
The best aspect of George’s defense was his constant attempt to fight through screens. In fact, he was nailed only once on a high screen.
He’s not fast (up and down the court), nor especially quick (in small spaces), but George knows how to score. He uses screens for profit, has a lightning release off his dribble and any catch-and-shoot opportunities, and his bump-and-step-back moves are unstoppable.
That said, his handle is better than it used to be but is still shaky. Dribbling even in moderate traffic is risky.
His defense is acceptable, but anything he accomplishes or avoids at this end of the game is a bonanza for the Pacers.
A scorer deluxe, Paul George is indeed a franchise player.