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Last updated: Tue. May. 13, 2014 - 05:08 am EDT

COLUMN

Forget fatigue, Indiana's George does it all

Pacers seek to wrap up series tonight

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Let's get this straight right now: Paul George doesn't beg off basketball assignments. He's a Pacer of commitment, a man of his word. Let somebody else rest or switch to something less taxing. George has a higher calling and it doesn't involve taking the easy way.

Tell Indiana's All-Star 6-foot-9 swingman to defend Washington shooting guard Bradley Beal and he sticks to it no matter how much running and screen slipping that entails. Tell him to be the big-gun scorer and he stays at that level when he's not elevating his game for crunch-time necessity.

In these pressure playoff times, necessity is everywhere you look.

George played all 24 second-half minutes in Sunday night's back-from-the-brink 95-92 victory against the Wizards, 47 minutes in all, to tie his playoff record. If he has to go a full 48 minutes tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, with a chance to win the seven-game series and move on to the Eastern Conference finals on the line, bring it on.

“I try to do whatever Coach needs me to do,” George says. “I'll always be there for him and try to give it my all.”

As for playing too much, well, George is 24 years old, and unscientific perception suggests fatigue is a myth for highly trained athletes at that age, a concept coach Frank Vogel sometimes has to buy into.

Necessity again, you see.

“Coach usually takes me out to get a breather,” George says, “but I knew at every (timeout) horn there wasn't somebody coming to get me. I had it in my head I was pretty much going to go the whole distance.

“There was a moment I was pretty gassed, but then that second wind kicked in. Once we started to build momentum (in the third quarter), it seemed like I wasn't getting tired. I was in a rhythm.”

That rhythm enabled George to set a personal playoff record with 39 points (12-for-20 shooting) along with 12 rebounds. His seven three-pointers tied a Pacers record held by Reggie Miller and Chuck Person.

A cynic could nitpick George's zero assists -- just the third time this season that's happened -- but who needs cynicism when Indiana has regained the form that made it the NBA's best team before Christmas and helped earn it the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed?

A lot of that falls on George, who averages a team-leading 23.5 points and 9.7 rebounds in the playoffs, better than his regular-season averages of 21.7 points and 6.6 rebounds.

“Paul George was special -- there's no other way to put it,” Vogel says.

As for George's nonstop defense on Beal, well, there's a reason why he led the team -- and finished fourth in the NBA -- with 151 regular-season steals.

“I hate not finishing off my assignment,” George says. “If Coach tells me to guard somebody, or if I feel I need to guard somebody, I want to make sure I get the job done. I wanted to stay on my matchup. (Beal is) a guy who can get hot. I didn't want him to get hot.”

Beal was hot enough to score 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting, which was an improvement from his Game 3 numbers against George's defense (6 for 19, 16 points), but not enough to be a difference-maker.

“He countered lot of stuff,” George says. “He shot less jumpers, had more cuts to the basket to try to pick up easy ones that way. That's a counter they did, the game plan against me, use the denial to get to the basket off the backdoor. I have to be aware of that in the next game.”

With a 3-1 series lead, George and the Pacers hope there is just one more “next game” against Washington, and that will come down to defense, which has been the team's driving force all season. It was crucial in Sunday's rally from a 19-point, on-the-road deficit.

“We've got great confidence in ourselves, particularly on the defensive end,” Vogel says. “We can go stretches of games without allowing a point and I think when you're down big, you understand that you're capable of putting together a string of stops and that's what you need to make a run.”

Or, as forward David West puts it, “We did a good job of setting our defense. We didn't try to go for any home-run plays. We were able to grind them down and put the pressure on them.”

And if it takes 48 minutes, or even more, to grind the Wizards down tonight, George figures to lead the way.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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