Paul George made one of those subtle little two-dribble moves to beat LeBron James to the left, sailed down the lane and threw down a thunderdunk. It was a play of such import and authority, TNT announcer Reggie Miller — something of an authority on postseason breakouts — exclaimed that George was “a superstar in the making.”
A few seconds later, James pulled up for a 29-foot 3-pointer over George that just beat the third-quarter buzzer.
As the teams turned to walk to their respective benches with the Pacers leading 76-74, James reached back and slapped hands with George, saying, “I got you back, young fella.”
Maybe so, but George had the last word as the Pacers beat the Heat 97-93 in Game 2 Friday to snatch homecourt advantage away from the NBA’s best regular-season team.
As this physical, dramatic and riveting series shifts to Indianapolis for the next two games, including day-night doubleheader with the Indy 500 on Sunday, there is no shortage of storylines.
The most prominent is this: James may well be the king, but George is looking more and more like the crown prince.
“He’s really good. He’s going to be a great one,” James said. “His maturity and his game has definitely risen in just one year because of the opportunity Frank Vogel has given him. His teammates have a lot of confidence in him, and he has confidence in himself.”
George had 22 points and six assists in Game 2, stats that paled next to Roy Hibbert’s 29 points and 10 rebounds. But while Hibbert has a physical advantage against whoever the Heat assigns to defend him, George is competing with the best player in the world.
With the emphasis on competing. Through two games, George has 49 points, 11 assists and six rebounds and is shooting 50 percent.
“I just can’t believe how much that kid keeps growing and growing and growing,” Vogel said. “He’s a third-year player. His third year in the NBA and he’s going against the best player in the world in LeBron, guarding him the entire night and carrying an offensive scoring load and just making confidence-building plays on the offensive end.”
George experienced both ends of the confidence spectrum in the opener. His long 3-pointer with seven-tenths of a second left forced overtime, and his three free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining in the extra session put the Pacers in position to win, leading 102-101.
But then he made a critical defensive mistake, overplaying James on the ensuing inbounds pass, leaving his adversary a path to the basket for the game-winning layup. Vogel took most of the heat for not having Hibbert’s shot-blocking presence on the floor, a mistake he corrected in Game 2.
With George staying in front of James and a lane clogged by Hibbert’s presence, the Miami superstar committed two straight turnovers in the final minute that allowed the Pacers to seal the victory.
“I mean, unbelievable, the steps that he has taken so far to be the player he is,” said George Hill. “We tell him that no matter the situation, he has to go attack (James) back, make him work on the defensive end to try to tire his legs on the offensive end. So I think Paul has done a great job of mixing up jump shots and attacking.”
In a season that saw him achieve All-Star status and selections to the All-NBA third team and All-Defensive second team, there was but one consistent failing that haunted George: the road.
For whatever reason, his level of performance just wasn’t the same outside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse; he shot just 39 percent overall, 29 percent from the arc.
He appears to have conquered that particular demon with his performances in Miami.
“Everyone’s on the same page and we rely heavily on contributions from everyone on this team,” George said. “We always preach that if everybody’s on the same page at the same time we can be scary good.”
Those pages everybody is on? They’re in a script being authored by George.