He scores 27 points, grabs 10 rebounds and has 6 assists and 4 steals
The day before the most crucial game for the Indiana Pacers, Paul George spent hours locked inside an empty gym. He lofted 500 jump shots, staying so late that his parents — who had spent most of the morning on their son's boat reeling in crappies — had more than enough time to clean their catches and prepare dinner as the sun faded over the Geist reservoir.
On Tuesday hours before facing the Atlanta Hawks, George recalled how delicious that meal turned out to be, then added while walking away: "Gonna eat good tonight, too."
Because George set the table for the must-win Game 2, the Pacers downed the Hawks in a 101-85 performance.
True, Luis Scola showcased his mid-range marvels through the second quarter that kept the Pacers' offense afloat. Yes, George Hill saw the light and remembered that he's also allowed to score and woke up in the third quarter. However, George was the thread that tied everything together for the Pacers.
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"I was dialed in," George said after the game.
He did it in the flow of the offense, dropping in a game-high 27 points – one off from his playoff high.
He also led the movement with his hustling, diving on the floor for loose balls and jumping the gaps as the Pacers flashed back to a dominant defensive game against the hot-shooting Hawks who could only must 39.2 percent from the floor.
George even accepted the toughest assignment of the night, defending Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague.
"That's why he was in the MVP conversation early because he always does those types of things," coach Frank Vogel said, "guarding the best perimeter (player), rebounding the ball, deflecting the ball. His hands are all over the place. He had four steals but he probably had 12 deflections and then you add the scoring to it. It just makes him one of the most complete players in the game when he plays like he did tonight."
Game 2 Pacers vs. Hawks Press Conference Clark Wade / IndyStar.com
George started the game looking as if he wanted to make good on those 500 jump shots he took after the previous practice, electing to shoot on the offensive end. When his layup dropped through at the 7:46 mark of the first quarter, the Pacers improved to an 11-6 lead. Eventually, as that lead dissipated under the splash of Atlanta jumpers and the Pacers' personnel shifted to the reserves, George eased into facilitator mode and set up Scola and Evan Turner for shots near the end of the quarter.
"He didn't force a lot of things," Hill said. "He made the pass when the double team came, he took the shots when he was open. He helped us on the defensive end of really banging up Jeff a little bit and being in the gaps and everybody else on the team followed that and tried to help him out with Jeff at the same time."
During this entire time, George had stretched his arms and moved his feet on defense to contain Teague. For George, the two days in between the playoff games wasn't just about jacking jumpers in the gym. Like most people, he saw the Pacers' greatest flaw in Game 1 as the lack of containment on Teague and so he studied the speedy point guard as if he was preparing for a final.
"I wanted an edit of how we guarded him Game 1," George said. "I sat down and it was homework for me. Just locking in to what he does, what's his tendencies, where can I get beat, where am I vulnerable against him. It's a challenge. I always want a challenge, it's fun to me. And he's a guy I know who's going to come right back at me at Game 3, I got to watch how I guarded him tonight and learn from that."
Through the first half, the matchup seemed like a wash as both George and Teague had 12 points. However, George emerged as the dominant one, holding Teague, the Indianapolis native, to just two points after halftime.
Game 2 Pacers vs. Hawks locker room reaction Clark Wade / IndyStar.com
"I understand he's playing at home and he's comfortable," George said. "He was a little comfortable out there. He's a great player. I'm going to challenge him. I'm going to go back at him but let him understand he's in our arena as well."
In the third quarter, as the Pacers hit their best shooting percentage (75 percent) of any quarter this season, George pulled down four rebounds, forced Teague into a bad pass for a steal and crashed to the floor against Paul Millsap to force a jump ball near the end of the Hawks' possession.
After Hill raised his game for 10 points all scored at the rim, George plainly lifted the Pacers with a pull-up 28-footer to beat the buzzer. As he howled near the Atlanta bench, several Pacers bounded off the bench and chased the length of the court to celebrate with their teammate. By that time, the Pacers led 79-65 and were on their way to tying this series with a rousing victory.
Since the start of the playoffs, George has looked like the George of November, December and January. Once again on Tuesday night, George etched his identity as a rare catch in this league – a legitimate star player who can dominate both ends of the floor.
"We just need him to be the same person that he was today," Hill said. "Just doing everything that he can to help us win the game."
Call Star reporter Candace Buckner at (317) 444-6121. Follow her on Twitter: @CandaceDBuckner.
Bob Kravitz and Candace Buckner break down Game 2 Clark Wade / IndyStar.com