It was May 22nd, 2013, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Twenty three-year old Forward Paul George had led the 3rd seeded Indiana Pacers past the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks, to a matchup with the then defending NBA champions, LeBron James, and the Miami Heat. The Pacers had kept it close all game, but with 20 seconds left, George turned the ball over with Indiana down by 2. After Ray Allen made one of two free throws, the Heat were now leading 92-89. The Pacers took the ball up the court with 17 seconds in the final quarter, and moved the ball around, until David West found Paul George deep behind the arc. With 2 seconds left, PG shot in LeBron’s face to tie the score at 92, and send the game into overtime.
Paul George had gone from a kid from Palmdale, California who loved playing 1 on 1 with his older sister, to the Indiana Pacers’ young star, shooting the most important shot of his life in front of the world’s greatest player. George was seen as a young player with great potential, and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller called him “A superstar in the making.” Fans were already talking about a Magic-Bird type of rivalry between him and LeBron. So now, two years later, what happened to PG’s superstar potential? How did he go from the face of the championship contending Indiana Pacers, to a player rehabbing from injury, returning to a non-playoff team?
Paul George was born in Palmdale, California, May 2nd, 1990, and has said he idolized Kobe Bryant growing up. George entered Knight High School having not played organized basketball before. George’s play quickly developed, and he received scholarships from schools like Pepperdine, Georgetown, and Penn State, but chose to attend Fresno State. George excelled at Fresno, and was named to the All-WAC Second Team in 2010. After his sophomore season, PG declared for the 2010 NBA Draft. Nine teams eventually passed on George, until the Indiana Pacers selected him with the 10th overall pick.
2010-2012, First Years in the League
In his rookie year, George played solid defense, and was able to score in the paint, while his jumpshot needed work, he shot 29% from 3 his first season. During the regular season, the Pacers went 37-45, and made the playoffs, losing to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. After his first season, PG had shown he had the potential to develop into one of the league’s best two-way players. In the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, George showed some of his potential, averaging 12.1 points per game, and 1.6 steals per game, while helping to take Indiana back to the playoffs, this time past the first round, and into the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, where the Pacers took the Heat to 6 games before falling to the eventual champions.
2012-13, Breakout Season
In 2012-13, Paul George had his best season yet, he broke the Pacers’ record for most 3 pointers in a game, recorded his first ever triple-double, was named an all-star for the first time, made the All-Defensive Second Team, and won Most-Improved Player, while the Pacers won 49 games and their division, securing the 3rd seed. In the first round of the playoffs, Indiana played the Atlanta Hawks, and won the series, 4-2. Then, in the Eastern Conference Semis, the Pacers beat the 2nd seeded Knicks in 6 games, and were on to the Eastern Conference Finals, to play the LeBron James and the Heat. Indiana had proven they could match up with some of the league’s best teams, but now the Pacers were up against the best of the best, the defending champions, looking to repeat.
Game 1 of the series was much closer than most thought it would be. George showed he could guard the best player in the world, and score on him too. The rest of the Pacers were able to force turnovers and help out PG by rebounding well, and getting him the ball in good spots. George made a clutch 3 to send the game into overtime, but LeBron’s game-winning layup won the game for the Heat. George proved that he could perform well on the biggest stage, and showed that Indiana had a real shot at beating Miami and playing in the Finals.
The Pacers took Game 2 in Miami behind C Roy Hibbert’s double double, and George’s 6 assists. In Game 3, LeBron put up 22 points, and the Heat won, despite Hibbert’s 17 rebounds. In Game 4, Lance Stephenson came up clutch, with a few last minute shots to give Indiana the win. George struggled in Game 4, scoring only 12 points and going 0-4 from 3. PG redeemed himself in Game 5, leading the Pacers in points (27), assists (5), and rebounds (11), while making 5 3-pointers, and shooting 11-19 from the field. George’s excellent game wasn’t enough for Indiana though, as the Heat won the game 90-79, and now led the series 3-2. Back in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, George put up 28 points and led the Pacers to a 91-77 Game 6 win.
In Game 7, the Pacers lack of experience showed as the Heat destroyed them by 23 points. PG was only able score 7 points off of 9 shots as Miami advanced to the Finals once again. The Heat would go on to defeat the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals and repeat as NBA Champions.
Paul George’s season was over, but over the course of the year, he had shown he had a very bright future in the league, and could one day be one of the world’s best.
2013-14, Hot Start and Off-Court Issues
The Pacers came into the 2014 season with high expectations, seen as the only team that could truly challenge the Heat. Indiana started off on a 9-0 hot streak, and were the first team to do so since 2002. PG and the Pacers continued their outstanding play through November, going 15-1 in the month. A day before being named Eastern Conference Player of the Month, George dropped a career-high 43 points vs the Trail Blazers, and it was around this time that reporters and fans began to think about PG as a major contender for the MVP award.
The Pacers cruised to the All-Star break with a 40-12 record, and Paul George was playing very well, leading Indiana to one of their best seasons ever. Then, in March, a story appeared that claimed George had been “catfished” into sending inappropriate pictures to a man posing as a woman. George said the story was false, and that he knew the woman who leaked the pictures. Only a few days later, it was rumored that George offered a woman who was pregnant with his child $1,000,000 to have an abortion. He denied this, saying it was completely untrue, and that he never offered the woman money. George eventually settled with the mother of his child for an undisclosed amount per George’s attorney Harriet Newman Cohen:
They have reached a settlement with full joint custody and a financial package. They will be raising their daughter together. Paul George had always intended to do the right thing, and he is thrilled to have a daughter. The settlement is generous, the child is going to have a wonderful life, and both parents will be equally involved in bringing her up.
With so much off the court distractions, George struggled for the rest of the season. The Pacers would go on to lose 8 of their final 12 games to finish the season, but kept the 1st seed in the East. Throughout his poor performance, PG maintained that his issues off the court were not the reason for the way he was playing.
The Pacers didn’t live up to expectations through the first round of the playoffs, letting the 8th seed Hawks take them to 7 games. PG began to look a little more like himself in the second round, scoring 39 points in game 2, and helping to lead Indiana past the Washington Wizards, back to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would play the Heat once again. This time around, the Pacers-Heat series wasn’t as hyped up as the one a year ago, and the Pacers didn’t challenge the defending champs as they did in the previous season. The Heat disposed of Indiana in 6 games, and went on to lose in the Finals to the Spurs.
Even though he struggled at the end of the season, and had problems off the court, PG was still viewed as an elite player, with potential to become one of the best in the game. He was invited to the Team USA training camp in preparation to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
On August 1st, during a Team USA scrimmage, George ran to the basket to defend a layup and landed awkwardly on his right leg. Once he landed, it was obvious that the injury was serious, and watching the replay just made you cringe.
The scrimmage was ended, and PG was rushed to the hospital. His injury was ruled a compound fracture, and he was likely to miss the entire season. George wanted to play for part of the season, and as soon as he could, he started rehabbing his leg and preparing for the season.
2014-15, PG Returns
The Pacers had struggled through the season without their star, and PG finally returned to the team on April 5th, where he made 2 clutch threes to lead Indiana past the Heat. George averaged 8.8 points per game and 3.7 rebounds per game in 6 games played while the Pacers missed the playoffs.
What to Expect from George in the Upcoming Season
It seems like everyone is rooting for George to come back, perform well, and become one of the league’s best players again, and that’s not unlikely. PG’s still 25, and if he doesn’t do well this year, he still has plenty of time. A year ago, George was great, defending well and scoring efficiently, and now that he’s healthy, he could be back to an elite two-way player this season.
The Pacers have changed their roster since last year, adding Monta Ellis and Jordan Hill, while trading Roy Hibbert and losing David West in free agency. Hopefully, Paul could be back to his old self, or close to it. The Pacers missed the playoffs by a tiebreaker last year, and now, with PG back and Ellis as a second scoring option, Indiana should be able to play in the postseason once again and George could once again be a superstar in the making.