As much as we all have been waiting for a game like this 37-point outburst Wednesday night, imagine how things have been for the Pacers. Even before Danny Granger’s injury, one of the major storylines of the season was George’s growth into a primary scorer’s role, his need to take the next step toward stardom.
When Granger was lost for the bulk of the season, the immediate assumption was George would unleash his inner alpha dog and pick up the slack. The idea Roy Hibbert would step forward offensively because he signed a max contract in the offseason was ill-founded.
The winning formula for the Pacers is for George’s alpha dog to hunt while Hibbert guards the front porch.
George entered Wednesday night averaging 13.4 points, shooting 38 percent overall and 35 percent from the 3-point line. As progress is measured, that would not even represent a baby step.
The truly alarming stat, however, was this: George was 0-of-16 from the 3-point line in the fourth quarter in the first 12 games.
“Leading into the fourth quarter, coach (Frank Vogel) brought that up and I whispered in his year, ‘It’s time for a new streak,’” George said. “My teammates found me, they made it easy for me, I just had to knock the shots down.”
George was 5-of-5 from the arc in the fourth quarter and overtime, scoring 19 points in those critical 17 minutes. Oddly, he was the only Pacer on the floor not to shoot it on the final two possessions of regulation when the Hornets were able to force overtime, but you can’t have everything.
As talented as he is, George seems to struggle with assertiveness. The combination of a laid-back personality and an incredible fluidity on the court lead to the appearance of nonchalance because everything seems to come easily for him.
Appearances deceive. Talent might breed confidence, but production makes it manifest. Finally, he has produced.
“Every time you’re trying to develop a player, the biggest battle is confidence,” Vogel said. “And when you have a game like this, it certainly shows you what you’re capable of and it gives you that feeling like you can do it. Now he’s just got to build on it.”
There’s the thing.
Last year, we thought George had experienced his breakout game when he racked up 30 in Dallas, adding nine rebounds, five assists and five steals on a night when he hit 7 of 11 from the 3-point line.
It took nearly three weeks for him to reach 20. In the nine games that followed, he averaged 10.7 points and shot 35 percent overall, 25 percent from the arc. The Pacers had their longest losing streak of the season, five in a row.
Will this 37-point game truly be a breakout? Or will it represent another anomaly? No one’s asking George to score 30 every night. But something around 20 on a consistent basis would be a huge help to a team desperately searching for its ultimate identity.
“Tonight, I just let the game come to me. That’s how I’ve always played, that’s how I’ve always been comfortable. And tonight I benefited from it,” George said. “I still want to continue to play throughout our team, throughout our offense, but just to be aggressive as far as shooting, really looking to shoot, and being confident in it.”
Now, there is one other word, its own little question, bouncing through my mind: