When Paul George scored 22 points in the Pacers’ 99-92 victory over Portland Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it wasn’t just another good game.
It just may have represented that long-awaited breakthrough, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the surging Pacers, who have won six of eight to climb above .500 heading into weekend games with Denver (Friday at home and) and Oklahoma City (Sunday on the road).
For the first time in his career, George put together consecutive games of at least 20 points.
“It’s exciting is what it is,” Vogel said. “You just watch and see some of the shots he’s making and say, ‘If he could ever stabilize and do this on a consistent basis,’ with the way he defends, you’ve got a special player there.”
For whatever reason, George has either been unable or unwilling to step into the alpha-dog role, offensively, which is why his previous big games have not led to breakouts.
When he scored 30 against Dallas last year, it took him nearly three weeks to reach 20 again; in the nine games that followed he averaged 10.7 on 35 percent shooting. When he scored 37 against New Orleans Nov. 21, he totaled 31 on 29 percent shooting in the next four games.
Which is why, when he hit the Bulls for 34 Tuesday night, we all wondered what was next.
“I am not doing anything different,” George said. “I’m going to continue to let the game come to me and hopefully be productive. It is kicking in the last couple of nights and I just hope I can continue this.”
Of course, these games came as the result of a bottoming-out: zero points in 29 minutes in Golden State, a performance that prompted George to go straight from the team plane – after a cross-country flight in the wee hours of the morning – to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to put up 500 jumpers.
In Chicago, George put forth the template for his rise. This wasn’t one of those games where he got hot from the 3-point line and just kept putting ‘em up. He was aggressive, attacking from all over the floor, hitting tough shots in traffic against one of the best wing defenders in the league, Luol Deng.
He hit some threes against Portland but after a quiet first half took over in the second. He scored 10 – two drives, two threes — in the game-turning 20-4 run that put the Pacers up 82-64.
If George can continue to provide a consistent presence within the offense, that will give the Pacers the scoring triumvirate – with David West and George Hill — contending teams need.
It may also serve to relieve pressure to score from Roy Hibbert, whose offensive game is imploding from self-inflicted pressure to live up to his max contract.
All is not right with the team, not yet. But the defense has been consistently strong and the rebuilt offense is starting to find a more steady flow. The bench is still a big problem. My sense is that could be solved by moving Sam Young into the starting lineup in place of Lance Stephenson.
The first unit has enough scoring but could use a steady veteran who can defend and doesn’t need the ball to contribute. The second unit is almost completely punchless and desperately needs Stephenson’s aggressive spirit.
“We know we’re improving,” Vogel said. “It ain’t perfect yet. We understand that, but we’re going to keep improving.”
For now, that’s enough.