Just like many twenty-two year old men did on Wednesday night, or perhaps even some could still be considered boys at that age, he sat in relaxed computer chair and leaned back. Just like the rest of those males across the United States, he played a game that day, though the sport of basketball is a little different from the PlayStation 3 or World of Warcraft. Just like the rest of those kids, the 6’9 star smirked with a big grin on his face, thinking of the future and the possibilities that lie ahead.
As Pacers third-year veteran Paul George sat in the locker room following Indiana’s 113-98 victory over the Atlanta Hawks to take a 2-0 lead in the first round series, with ice-packs on his knees as reporters hounded all of his teammates for quotes about the team’s victory, a journalist quipped over to George how much he must love only having to give answers to the media up at the press podium during the playoffs. George, who has probably had at least a few reporters hanging over him during the 2012-13 season as he finished dressing after every game game over Indiana’s eighty-one game season, just loved every moment of it.
“It’s nice, I could get used to this,” said George who seemed to lean further back into a more comfortable position into his chair.
Sure, George probably could get used to speaking at podiums in front of a room of reporters. In fact, as the rest of the National Basketball Association should fear, the young superstar in the making will probably get many more chances to do so over the course of his career. That is because on Wednesday night, George showed that he is going to be getting used to not only winning many more playoff games over his time in basketball, but he will be playing a major role as to why his teams will be winning.
The first career playoff triple-double in Sunday’s victory, with 23 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds may have been his official coming out party to those across the nation who haven’t followed him closely, and perhaps the major media coverage he received for winning the 2013 Kia Most Improved Player award on Tuesday was part-two to that kind of statement. However, if George did anything on Wednesday night with his 27 points on 11 for 21 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, and 0 turnover performance, he ultimately proved that this type of play is here to stay along with his brand-new attack the hoop type of mindset.
“When Paul has his shot going like he does, he’s a match-up nightmare for any team,” said Pacers Head Coach Frank Vogel.
But take a look away from the stat-book, and just watch what Paul George does as a whole for this Pacers team, and you start to sense that he is starting to get IT, or better known in the basketball circles (found in both David Halberstam’s “Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made” and Bill Simmons’ “Book of Basketball”) as “The Secret”.
As the story goes, Detroit Pistons’ point guard Isaiah Thomas would travel to the NBA Finals every year to see his good buddy Magic Johnson play in person. Each year, Thomas would ask Johnson what the core values were as to why the Los Angeles Lakers were so successful year-in and year-out, as Thomas was sick of the idea of ending each of his NBA seasons without a championship ring. Johnson, loving the fact that he knew the very concept of what it took for a team to reach the highest of levels, would hold the answer of what makes a team great as close to his heart as possible like a deep dark secret. So Thomas went on a never-ending search across the sports world, asking winners of championships in a variety of sports on what it takes for a group to reach platinum success and end up as number-one.
Slowly but surely, the concept of “The Secret” came over Thomas who went on to win two NBA championships in 1989 and 1990 (nearly winning three after dropping a seven-game series to the Lakers in 1988). In it’s simplest terms is pretty easy to understand.
For any basketball team to achieve true greatness, every single player, from the star all the way down to the twelfth man, must learn to play a role on a team and sacrifice everything on the court as long as it is for the good of team. No selfishness is allowed, no playing for individuality, and no comping for numbers. One must find his niche on that team, on the court every single night he laces up his sneakers, and do whatever it takes to win as long as the concept of togetherness and team takes place. If this happens, a group of men will likely succeed along their journey.
Paul George showed on Wednesday night, “The Secret” is there on full showcase in his game, if he knows it or not.
It was displayed before the national anthem at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, when George was presented (for the second time) with his Most Improved Player award in front of a crowd ready to give him a standing ovation. For George, this was the one true-moment to relish how hard he had worked on his game. It was an moment for an individual to take-in all the applause for the grueling dedication to becoming a better player both on and off the court, and to have that brief moment in the sun away from the rest of the Pacers team who has been sharing the spotlight with him all season long as Indiana won it’s fourth Central Division championship with a 49-32 record.
So what did George do? Naturally, he had Danny Granger, the Pacers former number-one option who has been sidelined for 76 regular season games and the entire playoffs due to nagging problems with his left knee that required surgery, right there on his side. Sure, Granger did win this award back in 2009, but to have the man that essentially needed to get hurt for George’s game to blossom into what it has by his side to essentially thank him for all that he has done over his career, speaks volumes.
Later the ball was tipped-off, and George showed everything as to why he is becoming one of the premier players in all of basketball. Not shying away from the moment once again, George was in full-attack mode from the very get-go, scoring 11 points alone in the first quarter. It started with a fast-break outlet pass from Lance Stephenson, hitting George across the court to the Pacers own free-throw line, with George shielding himself and the ball from an oncoming Kyle Korver. George took the contact, laid the ball into the hoop, and a statement was made right off the bat. George, no matter what, was going to put the team on his back throughout this game once again.
The highlight reel moments, along with the extra swagger in his step, were there for George throughout the game. With 8:43 left in the second quarter, George took a pass from Tyler Hansbrough from 24′ feet out, nailed the three, and turned to the crowd with three fingers in the air as the crowd emphatically cheered.
At the 9:48 mark left in the third quarter, George found an undersized Devin Harris guarding him down on the low-post as Pacers point guard George Hill dribbled the ball up the court. As Hill slowed the ball down, George ran up to the top of the wing, set Harris perfectly in front of the able-bodied David West for a pick, and sprinted straight towards the hoop. For one George, it was a simple pass, for the other George, it was slam dunk made to look too easy.
The last moment that sticks out from George’s brilliant performance, away from the fade-aways, the long jump shots, and the slick dunk off a cut as David West hit him down low, was at the 4:16 mark in the third quarter. George who has become a fantastic defender, cheated towards the free throw line towards Hawks point guard Jeff Teague as Kyle Korver was late to run down the court. George stuck in his hand and knocked the ball away from Teague, which bounced straight to Hill who hit George running up the open-court. Sort of.
Hill over-threw pass, and George dead-sprinted down the court to just barely snag the ball as it was in the air over the in-bounds line. Feeling Korver in front of him, George faked right, and then in one dribble-motion, broke right past Korver on the inside, and planting his feet on the ground, and doing a full 180-degree turn so his body was to the basket. Pacers went up 77-65, and then what seems to be George’s new signature pose was out in the open.
But away from his own personal moments, in a game in which he could possibly have scored more points and made the game just about him, there was George once again sharing the ball and the spotlight like the selfish star that Frank Vogel brags about him to be.
As time was winding down with 1:32 to go in the third quarter, George was getting full-respect from DeShawn Stevenson on defense, with Stevenson manning-up on him a full five or six feet outside of the three-point line. George, spotting Jeff Pendergraph coming to help, once again started to attack. George cross-over to his left, putting Stevenson straight into Pendergraph’s body that left such a violent blow that the over-powering Stevenson went flailing to the ground, and George found himself in a position that any top-scorer in the league would have been licking his chops at. In front of Stevenson now at the top of the key was Mike Scott, a young power forward who was getting his very first minutes of the series. Instead of driving past Scott, which he could have quite easily have done and gone in for a signature slam-dunk, George dribbled through his legs, took one step to his right, and boom.
A semi wide-open Gerald Green, who could only get a shot off with a perfect pass with how close John Jenkins was guarding him. George delivered, Green nailed the shot, and the Pacers would go on to win the game with ease.
However this isn’t a story to say that George, who on multiple times Wednesday night showed why even Grantland’s Zach Lowe was gushing about George’s ability to make the perfect pass rather than attempting to break through double-teams, has it all quite figured out just yet. No matter how talented he is at this age, George still needs to get better and become more consistent in multiple facets of his game.
No matter how good this Pacers squad is at this moment of time with a 2-o lead, they still have a lot to prove before they could even be considered a championship contender in this league.
And no matter what, the Miami Heat (and deservingly so) will be considered the favorites in the East for years to come as long as Lebron James is still playing basketball for them.
George knows that though, and a burning desire to dethrone the Heat, which ultimately lead to him working so hard that he came away with the Most Improved Player award, was just the first step. But right now, he knows that winning in Atlanta on Saturday night, will ultimately be the second.
“We are 0-2 in Atlanta,” said George. “We have to have that in the back of our mind. Teams play well at home, so we’ll have to bring it. The bench was huge tonight. That’s what we’re going to need. They contributed and did a good job. Coach relying on them in the playoffs has given them confidence.”
There is George again, even after a great performance, giving the respect and acknowledgement to those around him. There is George again, showing that the secret is out.
Paul George knows “The Secret”, and he could just get used to this.