INDIANAPOLIS – What Paul George pulled out of the trick bag midway through the fourth quarter Saturday night, for the record, isn’t even something he unleashes in practice. If anything, The Dunk That Briefly Blew Up The Internet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is reserved for the layup line, a reward for those paying attention but mostly to get some adrenaline pumping for George and his Indiana Pacers teammates.
“I always say, ‘You can’t do that in a game,’ ” teammate Lance Stephenson said later. “But he did it tonight. He didn’t say nothing, but I know he was like, ‘Told ya I could do it.’ “
There were six minutes left. George already had 34 points, his 3-pointer moments earlier pushing Indiana’s lead over the Los Angeles Clippers back to 20. Challenged by the ejection of forward David West for a flagrant-2 foul (high elbow swipe) on the Clippers’ Blake Griffin at the end of the second quarter, the Pacers used a 13-2 run up to the quarter’s midpoint to secure their home record (21-1, making this the 25th consecutive season Indiana has been above .500 at home).
Nothing, at 94-74, was still in doubt. Then George stole the ball from Darren Collison, raced downcourt and went Slam Dunk, uppercase, for the viewing audience.
His 360-degree, windmill throwdown was half-man, half-homage, the sort of thing vintage Vince Carter would save for a late round on All Star Saturday. Play of the Night? More like Dunk of the Season.
“That’s dunk of the year,” said the excitable Stephenson. “I’ve never seen that dunk live in a game before. I wanted to celebrate, but they didn’t call timeout, so … that dunk was crazy.”
Said Pacers reserve Chris Copeland: “That was unbelievable. That would have gotten 10′s in a dunk contest. But in the game? That makes it 10 times more impressive.”
Look at the video embedded with this post. Then look at it again. And again. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, the highlight clip of George’s dunk saves all of us from struggling – and failing – to properly describe the spontaneity, the creativity and the joy in what he did.
Saves him, too, as he shrugged it off afterward.
“Just getting back to having fun,” George said. “Showin’ I’ve still got it in my legs. Y’know, putting on a show for everybody coming down to support us at Bankers Life.”
But not necessarily inspired by Carter? “Yeah, I mean, he’s definitely a dunker I idolized growing up,” George said. “Again, it was just being out there, playing free and having fun. … I never really practice dunks. I just go out there and whatever happens in a game, I just let it go.”
That raised a question in the locker room that already was burning up Twitter. What’s more impressive: a breathtaking, thoroughly artistic dunk in the open court like the one George had just authored, or something more fierce, challenged in traffic, the dunk that requires as much power as grace to get two points over – or better yet, through – somebody?
This one was huge, especially against the team that — with Griffin, with DeAndre Jordan — rains pebble-grained terror down on the entire league. Yet almost to a man, the Pacers – George included – seemed to prefer the contested throwdown.
“Hmmm, I’d probably say a dunk over somebody. Because there’s defense,” said West, not surprising given his power game. “When you’re out there by yourself, you’re trying to dunk [for the crowd]. When you dunk on somebody, you know they’re trying to stop you.”
Said George: “It’s always better to dunk on somebody. Those are momentum-swingers. But I guess putting on a show ignites the crowd and it carries the same value as dunking on somebody.”
Copeland split the difference, and imagined George’s dunk graphically plotted as if on shot chart, ranking high in a thicket of all those traffic slams.
“That one right there would top a lot of fierce dunks,” Copeland said. “I personally like fierce dunks. I’d rather see you go over somebody. I think that’s as hard as it gets, to have a body in front of you. Fast-break dunks are not usually as tough as a ‘poster,’ a body, but that one? And I’m not even an open-court guy but that would be on top of my list.
“You saw our reaction on the bench. It speaks for itself.”
What do you think? Check out NBA.com’s Top 10 Dunks from 2013:
VIDEO: The Top 10 Dunks from 2013.