Pacers’ George shouldering, slumping under load of NBA stardom

By Steve Aschburner,

VIDEO: Paul George looks ahead to tonight’s Heat-Pacers matchup

INDIANAPOLIS – Paul George generated headlines and criticism when he spoke recently about his desire to be mentored by LeBron James.

At this point, George and the Indiana Pacers might settle for not being schooled by him.

With the Miami Heat in town tonight (8 ET, ESPN) for the third of the teams’ four meetings in 2013-14 — they’ve split the first two and clash again on April 11 in south Florida — the Pacers are struggling with some Xs & Os issues. They could stand a little R&R and while they’re at it, a few Z’s, too. But right now, it is George’s DNA that is getting much of the attention, as he tries to finish strong a season unlike any other he has experienced.

Through his first three years, the Pacers’ rapidly developing wing player faced minimal individual pressure. From something of a sleeper as the No. 10 pick in the 2010 Draft, the 6-foot-8 Scottie Pippen-playalike blossomed from helpful rookie to rotation player to starter to All-Star. His production and his minutes went up, up, up — from 7.8 ppg to 17.4, from 20.7 mpg to 37.6 — always staying a few steps ahead of expectations. The Pacers made the playoffs every year and, kind of like George, went a step further each time.

George’s game has taken another step again — he started for the East in the All-Star Game in New Orleans and he was a regular in MVP conversations through the season’s first four months. But the expectations have caught up to him lately and so, it seems, have the defensive game plans.

Like the Heat, the Pacers have lost seven of their last 12 games. Unlike the Heat, the Pacers don’t have two rings or nearly the established track record for pulling out of a nosedive. Especially since Indiana is the one that staked out a wire-to-wire run for the East’s No. 1 seed that has gone vulnerable at what could be the worst possible time.

Their rivals know it, the Pacers know it. One of those crews is grasping to fix it.

“We’ve got to do a better job of playing with energy,” George said after Indiana’s loss in Chicago on Monday. “We’ve just been dead, it seems like on the court lately. That’s not us. That’s not us.”

After the Pacers’ practice Tuesday, he added: “We just haven’t been having fun. We’re making the game much harder than it needs to be. Somewhere along the line we forgot how much fun this game can be. … We went through a streak of games where we were just getting by because we were the more talented team. Where now we have to play good basketball to get wins.”

It’s probably not a stretch to hear “I” each time George says “we.” Sure, the Pacers’ offense is the primary problem, but he has been so instrumental in it that the overlap is vast.

George is carrying a big load in Indiana’s attack — 21.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.5 apg — and with what’s been going on, has tried to shoulder more. It looks like pressing: He’s shooting 36.6 percent over his last 13 games –including 19 of 71 from 3-point range — and has had five games of 13 points or fewer (including nights of 2 and 8).

When he has shot less than 42 percent in this stretch, the Pacers are 3-6. He has had off-the-court distractions too – a paternity case from a woman in Florida, some photo-texting claim that broke over the weekend that he termed “a fake” — that surely have not helped.

Asked Monday if he has seen Indiana players try to do too much through the team’s slump, George said: “We have it at times. You’re going to need it sometimes. We choose the wrong moments.”

Asked if he’s been one of those guys, he said: “At times. I’m not going to say I’m not one of ’em. I only have good intentions to get something going for us offensively and just be aggressive.

“Our execution isn’t where we want it to be. We’re nowhere where we want to be as far as screening. Setting guys up. Moving with energy, playing with some energy. And cutting without the ball. You know, everything has just been so lackadaisical. That’s going to get you beat. We’re putting too much pressure on ourselves to score against great defense in the halfcourt.”

There is no break coming Wednesday night, not with the way Miami traps the ball out top and, if all else fails, can ask James to throw a bruising defensive blanket over Indiana’s best player.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel acknowledged after the loss in Chicago that he has talked with George about not overburdening himself, forcing matters, or taking personally too much of the team’s struggle.

“All the time,” Vogel said. “He’s learning. He’s growing. I don’t want to share the details, but it’s a grind. It’s a grind right now. He’s just got to work his way through it.”

George is, after all, still 23. When Michael Jordan was George’s age, he had played in seven playoff games total. OK, Kobe had two rings at 23, but he also had Shaquille O’Neal. It took James — another high schooler with a head start — until his fourth season to reach The Finals and his sixth to win an MVP. Everyone’s into the hurry-up, but George has been doing fine.

These are teachable moments, this game, the next one against Miami and these next three weeks. Everything George and the Pacers want to achieve still is right there for them.

“I really wish I could tell you [the “book” on stopping George],” Chicago’s Taj Gibson said after George’s 8-of-22 shooting Monday. “Paul, over the years, hass added so many different things to his arsenal. The best thing you can try to do is play with a lot of energy and try to contest every shot. That’s the most I can tell you — every time he shot the ball, we tried to do a hard contest. Hand in his face, like Kobe kind of. You’ve just got to try to frustrate him any way you can.”

Lately, George has been starting halfway there, a situation he and the Pacers will try to remedy Wednesday.

VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Miami Heat



  1. Big Mike says:

    Not really being talked about, but this team hasn’t been the same since the loss of Granger. George going to be a very good one but still hasn’t reach the status that Granger had. Check the career stats and you’ll see what I mean. Team chemistry is an important factor in contending for championships and this current team just doesn’t have it. Whether or not this team can get it back remains to be seen.

    • Rangers says:

      Granger wouldn’t make a difference in pacers recent slide tbh. He had poor fg% and def rtg.

      Paul George is already better than granger’s prime.
      22 ppg 7rebpg 4astpg with 95 def rtg (guards lebron, kd, Carmelo every night) with 6 def win shares is much better than granger’s best years

  2. Ken says:

    The legendary bird, my all time favorite supposed to be, made known that a player is after all expendable. Play for yourself, for that big bucks, not for the team because your loyalty is only a word. Careful PG, break your finger for the team the next season you are gone..

  3. marty says:

    PG taking blame however I don’t hear anything about the HC or team president.I believe those 2 are complicit in the teams struggle.

  4. CDR says:

    Just commenting on MJ’s total playoff game at age 23. The reason why I think he had fewer games is that the format then was best of 5, some best of 3. I remember him beaten by the Celtics where he scored, if I remember correctly, 63 points.

  5. Pétrus says:

    I believe the pacers even struggling recently, still are a dangerous team to face off, they have a good defense, but they’re begin to feel the trade of Danny Granger, who not only brought experience, but brought shooting too, when he returned from his injury

    • Kobe says:

      Paul George should come play for the Lakers and be the next biggest star of LA Hollywood. There is nothing like being the hero in your own hometown. Not everyone will succeed in big market (i.e. Dwight), but being from the big market itself, PG will definitely be the next Kobe. Life after basketball is where you should be looking at

  6. bob ellison says:

    But definitely not forgotten.
    Like a flash, out of the blue, in the middle of the night, at the last second of the trade deadline — the Legend, with no forwarning, ships out the Loyalist.
    Think that might have something to do with the team’s, umn, depression?
    Just wonderin’ . . .

  7. santa claus says:

    if the Pacers do indeed lose the number one slot to Miami, and i think they will, it’s going to crush them. after all the talk and woofing all season, i expect to see them get knocked off before the Eastern Conference Finals. (they can’t score)

  8. thespectator says:

    dont pacers have a backup plan in case they dont get the number 1 seed? with a loss tonight pacers are tied with Ls with miami…seems like pacers really didnt think this one thru…82 games is a lot of games…you can see where the leadership of the vets is drastically needed now more than ever. when a team is slumping they need those loud vocal vets to kinda show the young guns the light to the end of the tunnel. miami has that which is why they can turn things around but indy doesnt have that, especially now that they got rid of granger…youd think david west would be that guy…but clearly its not the case….

    • Paul says:

      No, if they lose tonight they will still have a 1 game lead on Miami for the 1 seed. And we haven’t seen Miami do anything to outshine the Pacers yet – even with all their “vets”. Just coasting through based on their reputation won’t win them another ring, they have to put up or shut up just like Indiana. The NBA season is long, and there are slumps by even the best teams, come playoff time, I expect both of these teams to be in the thick of the race. They will be focused on the defense, and offense will take care of itself.

      • Jimmithan says:

        Your key words there are “just coasting” That’s exactly what they are doing. They seat one of the big three whenever they have the chance for “injuries” and some for rest. Miami’s playing 5 has changed drastically since they clinched a playoff berth. Oden has made more of a presence in games, and some of the other bench players are getting valuable minutes as well. Miami knows when to turn it on and off, and they are just patiently waiting for key games (like tonight) and the playoffs. The pacers are in a slump and have verbalized that they cant figure out how to get it together. Miami is just dilly-dallying around until the end of the season. Pacers are in an identity crisis.

      • Witness says:

        No actually Paul the Losee colum will be tied which is all that matters. Teams play a different amount of games not always matched up so we’ll look at the Losses which if Miami Wins they will be tied.