SACRAMENTO, Calif. – By late Friday night, the next move had become obvious.
“Yeah,” Paul George agreed. “I should. And put a million or something down on 24.”
Obviously on 24. It’s George’s Pacers uniform number, and it’s becoming George’s world by the day. Ride the hot streak. Put down a million. Put down the “or something.” Just put it on two-four and keep pressing the bet.
Thursday morning, George was named to the initial Team USA pool of candidates for the 2014 World Cup of Basketball and the 2016 Olympics, a list that will likely be tweaked over the months and years but barring injury will include the Indiana small forward with the high character to match the MVP-level talent. Thursday evening, he was announced as a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, obviously deserved but an affirmation of his rising profile. Later that night, George scored 26 points in Phoenix, even if it went to waste as the Suns won 124-100.
Then, Friday. The winningest team in the league by percentage was staring at a second consecutive bad loss, with the blowout in Arizona about to be followed not only by a defeat to the Kings, but a defeat to the Kings without the injured DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. Sacramento led by 17 points in the second quarter and by four with 18.3 seconds remaining in the fourth. The Pacers called timeout.
They came out and got the ball to George, who hit a 26-footer from the right side with 15.1 seconds left. With a foul being called on the defender, Derrick Williams. George swished the free throw. Four-point play. Overtime.
George scored nine points in the final quarter of regulation and eight more in the five-minute extra period, making a combined six of nine shots in that time as part of finishing with 36 points. He had two steals in overtime, including a strip of Isaiah Thomas with 15.9 showing to clinch what became a 116-111 Indiana escape, a 6-foot-9 forward flat out picking the pocket of an experienced 5-foot-9 ball handler.
Not a bad couple days, from Thursday morning to Friday night with two resume-building announcements, 62 points and 75 minutes.
“It’s been tough,” he said.
Tough? League-wide accolades, big scoring numbers and clutch performances were tough?
“It’s been real tough,” George replied after the Kings game. “Going into Phoenix, battling a team that was ready for us, and then coming out tonight with another hot team, it’s tough and we’ve got to understand that teams are going to be ready for us.”
OK. But the new status, in popularity and performance. The great finish Friday.
“That’s been good,” George said. “It’s been a balance of both. It’s been awesome. I put a lot of work into this year, into this season, and just overall in being better as a person. It’s good that everything’s starting to pay off for me. It makes me want to get better every day.”
That chance comes tonight in Denver (9 ET, League Pass) , a tough travel back-to-back, at altitude and against Nuggets coach Brian Shaw, a Pacers assistant before this season. George is at 23.6 points a game, eighth in the league and has a new status of stardom after the Thursday double. Part of betting on him is the 53.7 percent from the field and 45.9 percent on 3s the last five games.
No casino runs, in other words. He is needed elsewhere.
“Definitely not,” teammate George Hill said. “We’ve got to focus. We got a big game ahead of us (Saturday). Then after that he can probably go to Vegas.”