It’s one thing to put up big numbers against average competition. However, when those numbers come against the world’s best player? Now that’s making a statement.
Paul George spoke loudly with his performance against LeBron James Tuesday night, leading the Indiana Pacers (21-14) to a 87-77 home victory over the Miami Heat (23-10). George scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half and grabbed 11 rebounds, outplaying the reigning league MVP. Indiana has won eight of its last 10 games and eight straight at home.
“Paul George was sensational carrying us for a large stretch of the game offensively,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “Just a solid all-around game by one of the best all-around players in the game.”
George struggled earlier in the year with the added responsibility of being a focal point of the offense. He settled for too many tough shots while using a higher percentage of possessions because of Danny Granger’s absence due to injury. Since the beginning of December, he has been the fourth-most efficient small forward in the league behind James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Tuesday night, he finally had a great game against one of the league’s elite.
“I was looking forward to this game a lot,” said George. “I wanted to be aggressive and attack them, looking for my shot. My guys did a great job getting me open.”
George has come a long way from last year’s playoff loss to Miami. He played timid and did little to nothing offensively, averaging 10 points on 36.5% shooting in the series.
“That’s something I didn’t do last year was be aggressive and you can’t let those guys off the hook like that,” George said. “They are amazing players and superstars in this league, so you have to make them work on the other end.”
He certainly made James work defensively Tuesday night. At one point in the fourth quarter, George posted up James at around the free throw line extended, caught the ball, faced up and dropped a jumper right in his mug. The confidence was oozing from the third-year swingman.
That confidence will be put to the test Thursday night when George matches up with another elite forward in Anthony when the New York Knicks come to Indy. He has an opportunity to make another big statement, but this time on national TV. Could we see a coming out party? After this performance, it’s quite possible.
Follow Jay Neal on Twitter @JayNilla