The Indiana Pacers should not have needed overtime to go 2-1 against the Mavericks and Sixers — two teams with a combined 3-13 (0.187) record. They should have been able to build on the 14-point lead they held over Philly, and they should have been able to hold onto the 16-point lead they built against the Lakers. But, until they start to collectively exhibit that they view defense as more of a must than a should, this will continue to be their reality. Leads will feel unnervingly fleeting, and deficits will feel maddeningly insurmountable.
Still, one unexpected benefit has come to light as a result of the Pacers failing to close close games earlier: Paul George’s clutch-time reliability.
George hasn’t only improved when compared against himself, he’s among the league’s most efficient performers during the last three minutes of the fourth quarter when the score is within five points.
When comparing only players who have used at least 40 percent of their respective team’s offensive possessions in at least four games fulfilling the aforementioned clutch-time parameters, George is making the most efficient use of his lower end of the scale usage.
Among the go-to scorers cited, Indiana’s two-way star is one of only four who actually ups his game in pressure packed situations.
It’s a minuscule sample size, but George has improved year-over-year, makes the most of fewer possessions head-to-head, and his efficiency numbers skyrocket when the clock winds down. Whether he’s kicking the ball to Myles Turner for a contested three against Dallas, scoring Indiana’s final 10 points against the Lakers, or drilling two high pressure free throws to force overtime against the Sixers, it’s hard to argue that there is a better set of hands for the ball to be in than Paul George’s when the game is on the line.
“I felt confident in that moment,” George told the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor following his late-game heroics against the Lakers. “I knew I had the mismatch and the advantage. I’m just glad he addressed it and allowed me take over at that moment. I think Coach Nate knows that and understands that as well, that those last three minutes is my time.”
There’s no denying that George has owned the last three minutes, the time for the Pacers to exhibit better ownership over the first 45 is now.