Brian Shaw recalls Paul George taking his game to the next level

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Early last season, Paul George took on a bigger role for the Pacers and along the way figured out how to lift his level of play to an All-Star level with a little help from former bench coach, Brian Shaw.

It didn't seem like a memorable moment at the time.

Last season in Oklahoma City, Serge Ibaka stoned Paul George's dunk attempt at the rim which appeared to be a cringe-worthy moment in PG's young career. Certainly something he would rather forget the instant it happened, right?

"I remember that play," Paul George said following the Pacers win over Denver on Monday, roughly 14 months later.

The reason George remembers the denial by Ibaka is because Brian Shaw celebrated the play. Despite the end result, Shaw felt that play was the first sign that George was ready to take his game to another level.

"We used to always tease him," Shaw said. "Paul grew late and he would go to the basket a lot and get his shot blocked and a lot of times by smaller guards. We'd say, you know, you're 6'9 you should think about dunking the ball when you get close enough that you're underneath the basket."

Shaw quickly recalled the dunk attempt against Oklahoma City as a milestone in the young player's development as he took the ball to the rim and attacked one of the league's best defenders in the lane.

"Now, Serge Ibaka blocked the shot but that was the first time, I was like, OK he went up like a man that time." Shaw said. "I mentioned that to him and told him that even though you got your shot blocked that's the way you have to go in."

Yes, this play was proof PG was "getting it" and ready to start playing at an All-Star level.

Remember, the OKC game was just a week after George looked himself in the mirror and altered his game prep after the Golden State Goose Egg, which seemed like a more natural milestone in George's development. But preparing like an elite player is one thing. Carrying that attitude to the court, and more importantly in Shaw's eyes, to the rim is how PG went next level.

"I tried to attack the basket and challenge one of the best rim protectors in the league," George said of his failed dunk attempt. "From that point on, he (Shaw) told me, to get to the next level, guys finish at a high level and finish above the rim. So that was something I worked on, just attacking the basket more aggressively."

The rest, as they say, is history. George went on to earn a spot on the East All-Star team along with the league's Most Improved Player award while helping lead the Pacers to within one win of the NBA Finals. But the true validation of arriving as an elite playmaker came in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals when George blew past LeBron James and then flew over Birdman to indeed finish at a high level and finish above the rim.

"I think he felt like he had arrived and I think LeBron acknowledged that when they slapped each other five at half court right before the time out" Shaw recalled. "So that's when I felt like he turned the corner and he realized that he belonged in the conversation with those guys."

Shaw described Paul George as the best two-way player in the game, making a point to include LeBron James and anyone else in that assessment. He also refused to take any credit for PG's development, instead praising George for putting in the time and effort to take advantage of the "tools" he has to work with on the court.

George disagrees with that assessment, remaining grateful for the impact Shaw had on his game which included turning an apparent failure against Ibaka into a moment PG will never forget that helped raise his game to an elite level.

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