Pacers’ Paul George shows he’s better than ever vs. Clippers


Besides injury issues, terrible rebounding and poor shooting, the Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Indiana Pacers because Paul George is simply better than ever.

It wasn’t even his best shooting game of the season, yet Paul George proved yet again that he’s undoubtedly at his best right now. He’s at full health and gracing the NBA with his elite two-way ability after a gruesome leg break in the summer of 2014, and the Indiana Pacers are reaping the reward of his return. At 12-6 after winning eight of their last 10 games, they now rank 3rd in the Eastern Conference, just one win behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s the kind of start that not even the most hopeful Pacers fan probably expected, but George is making it possible.

Now that he’s been able to return with his usual playing time, he’s up to 36.1 minutes per game and making every one of them count. He’s started his new season in a different way to before, though. No longer are the Pacers a grit and grind defensive team who play at a low pace with lumbering big men. That’s not what head coach Frank Vogel and team president Larry Bird want this year.

Instead, they’ve followed the NBA’s trend for faster play and small-ball lineups and it’s working. They now rank 12th in pace which is a fair increase after sitting around the bottom 10 in the league for the last two seasons. And while it may not be on nearly the same level as the Golden State Warriors, it’s still working.

George has spent 57 percent of his playing time at power forward so far, with the other 43 percent coming at his favorite spot of small forward. He gave Blake Griffin trouble all night, and when DeAndre Jordan was forced to switch onto him in a fast break, George showed how foolish he can make opposing big men look. Few frontcourt players can keep up with him, and he had the perfect chance to show that against the Clippers with his 31 points and five three pointers.

Dec 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (left) moves the ball defended by Los Angeles Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute (right) during the fourth quarter at Staples Center. The Indiana Pacers won 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

When he gets the chance to take bigger defenders on the perimeter (thankfully for 6’11” guys like DeAndre Jordan, that won’t normally be the case for centers), George’s speed and ball handling is too tough to handle. Even for good perimeter defenders like the Clippers’ Luc Mbah a Moute, George is hard to stop when he takes players off the dribble and explodes to finish inside.

When it comes to being that threat from the perimeter, though, and having the perfect skill set to operate as a stretch four offensively, George truly shines. Regardless of what position he’s been at, the way he’s been playing this season has made him look better than ever.

Since November 4 he’s averaged 30.7 points per game, while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and 51.5 percent from three. Yes, what Stephen Curry is doing this year is extraordinary, but George has been exceptional, too. He’s tied with Russell Westbrook for 2nd in the NBA for the most 30 point games so far with seven, and is now 6th in the league with 26.5 points a night. On top of that, his 56 made three pointers ranks him 4th in the league.

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George has been the driving force of the Pacers all season so far, and was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month in November for his efforts. The award was more than deserved, as he’s taken a team who looked like a potential low-seed playoff team to the top of the East so far. With his elevated scoring and lock-down defense, he’s been doing it all.

The only real problem with George this season is not being able to take big men in the post on defense in the Pacers’ new small-ball approach. He may be 6’8″ with great athleticism, but he’s always had a slender build at 220 lbs and excels with his quickness and agility rather than strength. Those physical attributes help make him the player he is, but as a post defender they don’t quite give him the same success. However, he’s elevated his aggression inside with a career-high 8.2 rebounds per game, and with the help of Ian Mahinmi, Lavoy Allen, Jordan Hill and Myles Turner (once he’s back from injury), the Pacers can still hold down the paint.

As for George’s effort on the perimeter, he’s looked at his best. Players are shooting 3.5 percent worse than normal when guarded by him from three point range, and 6.1 percent worse overall (per’s Player Tracking). Since 2013-14, when he was healthy and played 80 games, he’s improved by several percent in both those areas. He can take most players on the perimeter, and now he’s fully healthy, he’s been the perfect example of a two-way superstar. Which, in case you haven’t been watching the Houston Rockets much lately, is the exact opposite of how James Harden has been playing.

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That elite play at both ends of the floor is what really took down the Clippers in their last game. They struggled to match up against him on defense, as Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce would have no chance at stopping him. Lance Stephenson and Luc Mbah a Moute did what they could, but ultimately George was too much to handle — in terms of his superior size, athleticism and hot shooting stroke. Add on the Clippers’ 38 percent shooting and them losing the rebound battle 47-40 and it’s not surprising they lost 103-91.

Paul George is not just back; he’s better than ever. He’s one of the most unstoppable offensive forces in the game right now, and his shutdown defense is present as always.