Pacer guard Paul George held the ball at the top of the arc. He was looking up at the clock, waiting for the right moment to attack the basket. He took one left hand dribble, then a left to right dribble between the legs, then the same between the legs and back to his left.
It was time to attack.
George beat his defender, LeBron James, with a lightning quick first step and drove into the paint with two dribbles. Elevating just before getting into the restricted area, George threw down a nasty right handed slam over Heat forward Chris Andersen, who had gone up to contest the shot.
By the time George had jammed the ball through, Andersen – “Birdman” as they call him – was sideways, hands to the floor to break his fall. In the words of commentator Reggie Miller, it was Andersen’s “Kodak moment.”
It was a poster indeed.
It was the type of moment where players “arrive” — the moment that superstars have early in their careers that signal that they are for real.
For George, it was his arrival. It was the moment when he would stop being known to casual fans as “that good young kid from the Pacers” and start being known as “Paul George.”
The sample size to get acclimated to the 23-year-old Fresno State Bulldog product for most fans has been just two games – the first two of the current Eastern Conference final, of which Game 3 will be Sunday night.
But George’s 2013 season could also be used as evidence of a star in the making.
He was an All-Star this past season, averaging 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals, while playing 37.6 minutes per game, taking over the starting small forward spot from the injured Danny Granger. George was also named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, upping his scoring average from last season’s 12.1.
Reminiscent to some of a young Tracy McGrady, George can do it all. He’s 6’8” and 221 pounds, the prototype small forward (although he played shooting guard when Granger was in the lineup). He is long, a great one on one defender, can shoot the three and has a solid midrange game.
With the spotlight on him this Eastern Final, going up against the best player in the world in James, George has not backed down from the challenge. In Game 1, he made a high degree of difficulty, off balance, 32 foot three-pointer to tie the game and send it into overtime. Then in the extra frame, he hit three free throws with 2.2 seconds left to knot up the score.
Save for a defensive mistake on James on the last play of overtime when James drove for the game winning layup, George had played as good as you could play. He had 27 points, five assists and four rebounds against the best player in the game. In Game 2, he had 22 points and played great defense on James in the game’s final moments.
He is, at 23, going mano-a-mano with the world’s best player, taking James’ best shot, and giving his best right back.
After George’s slam on Andersen, James raced down the court in the final 5.1 seconds, and nailed a long three to end the quarter over the outstretched arm of George.
Following the basket, James turned and said to his younger counterpart “I got your back”, and then as George was walking away, James acknowledged him again and extended his hand for a five. They slapped hands.
It was the ultimate sign of respect as player was recognizing player. The league’s preeminent star lending a hand to an up and comer who is giving him all he can handle on both ends of the floor.
Paul George is indeed here to stay.