This was the game Indiana Pacers fans were waiting for from Paul George.
That is, since the last time.
George struggled mightily on the back end of the California road trip, but responded through focus and a little bit of a chip on his shoulder tonight, leading the Pacers with 34 of their 80 points. The beauty of tonight's Paul George? He was keyed in in a way he hasn't been this year; attacking the basket, attacking on the defensive end, and showcasing the many facets of his game that had gotten lost in his tendency to throw a lot of three pointers up.
George spent a little extra time in the gym and it paid off big time; he was not only there early when David West and George Hill showed signs of an off night, but he was there in the fourth quarter, when the Pacers were on the verge of collapsing against a Nate Robinson spark, putting Indiana on his back as part of a 10-2 run late that put them up for good.
It really was Paul George's world tonight, but the next step is showing this kind of fight consistently. It's one thing to have a showcase performance like this one night, it's another to do it night after night. George has proven he can score 30, but what the Pacers miss without Danny Granger is someone who can go get you 30. David West isn't going to be able to carry the scoring load every night, his 3-12 performance tonight showed that. At the same time, George Hill's 3-16 performance tonight is going to crop up from time to time.
But tonight, Paul looked closer to someone who can go get you 30 rather than someone who simply scores 30. While it'd be ridiculous to expect 30 a night from George, it shouldn't be ridiculous to expect this kind of effort and play on both sides, making use of the inside and mid-range game, rather than doing your damage exclusively from the three point arc.
West and Hill struggled shooting, but they weren't the only ones; the entire Pacers team did. George was the only player north of 50% shooting, but it took some key plays made by other players to help seal the win. Roy Hibbert had 10 points and 11 boards, stepping up in the third quarter and also clinching the win by jumping straight up against Luol Deng and the Pacers up two.
Lance Stephenson had a quiet first half, but made some key (and not so key) plays in the second half, the receiving end of a beautiful David West pass giving Indiana a two possession lead late (before he fouled Carlos Boozer on the following play). West himself iced the game at the free throw line (redemption for missing his previous two) as part of his 10 & 9 effort, also pitching in five assists.
Indiana went into the half with nine turnovers, but cleaned up big time, committing just three in the entire second half while the Bulls would more than double their halftime total, finishing with 19. A key to those turnovers was 10 Pacers steals, led by George's three. The bench struggled, but Ian Mahinmi found his way to the free throw line as part of his six points. Sam Young left the game in the fourth quarter following a collision with a cameraman.
Frank Vogel shifted his player minutes tonight, giving the starters a heavier load, a move that proved effective with the starters at least playing halfway decent. With the game swinging in a bad direction early in the fourth, Vogel was quick to return the starters to the floor, limiting potential damage from a second unit that flipped the starting lineup's successful play.
The decision could crop up tomorrow night as the Pacers (finally) return home to face the Portland Trail Blazers in the second half of their back to back. The win puts the Pacers back in a three-way tie with Chicago and Milwaukee for the division lead, and gets the Pacers at .500 with a 9-9 record.