Post Game Grades - Pacers Dominate Jazz in Best Performance of the Season

The Pacers are just 14-12. They aren’t where you want them to be. They aren’t where they want to be. An impressive – and much-needed – 104-84 blowout of the Jazz was a lot of fun, but not necessarily definitional.

But watching this team over the last few games, you could begin to see “the plan” again. Early in the season, it was David West dragging the team away from the cliff. It was George Hill making just enough clutch plays to avoid disaster. And it was Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and the bench – as a whole and individually – just not getting the job done.

The defense was always there, but the offense was nowhere to be found. And you had to wonder if how long the defense would be able to withstand the pressure put on it by the anemic offense.

“It takes you a step back,” Paul George said. “You’re playing such great defense, like against Toronto, then you’re not knocking shots down…you tense up a little bit.”

The Pacers have won four of their last five games, and that’s great from a team perspective. But on some occasions, team improvement starts with individual success. In this case, Paul George’s recent emergence as the third “Pacer worth taking seriously” is beginning to drive the team’s improvement.

I asked Coach Vogel if Paul’s recent success is helping to make everyone more comfortable. “We knew when we learned that Danny was going to be out, there was going to be an adjustment period,“ Vogel said. “It’s definitely starting to come.”

In the locker room after the game, Gerald Green – he of the 21 points and ri-damn-diculous And-1 dunk – spoke about the whether or not he thought the stabilization of the starting unit was beginning to help the bench.

“I think so,” he nodded. “I think time is really helping us as well. Just every day, constantly, us playing with each other, we’re starting to know each other’s tendencies. The first five, ten games of the season, we were still trying to get a feel for each other. Now, we’re starting to know what we like to do. I think that’s making it a lot easier for us.”

This team still misses Danny Granger – at least from a sheer talent perspective. If they want to do any damage against good teams in the playoffs, I believe they will need Granger to return and be solidly productive. But, this team is also starting to evolve into an above average basketball team without him.

And the impetus of this is Paul George. It’s not Paul George alone. David West has been a rock all season. George Hill has quietly moved from just making a few clutch buckets to being a consistently NBA starter. But PG has been the epicenter.

In ten December games, the 6’10” Fresno State product has averaged 20 points, 8 rebounds four assists, and – just for good measure – a block and a steal per game. He’s done it while shooting 48% from the floor, 42% from three, and 85% from the foul line.

All of this has occurred while maintaining – and improving, in my opinion – his personal defensive standard. In tonight’s game, he had no less than three All-Defensive plays.

This Paul George fundamentally alters my perception of this team and this roster. Again, the Pacers have not suddenly become contenders. They still struggle to score from time-to-time, and left one on the table last night in Milwaukee by shooting something on the order of 29% from the floor in the second half.

But you can see a way for them to continue to grow and be better – both collectively and individually. George himself says that the reason for his apparent leap is the mundane fact of knowing what works and what doesn’t.

“I feel like I’ve been playing the same way as last year, but now I know when I can be aggressive…when I can look for teammates…when to make plays. Now, I have confidence I’ll knock shots down,” George explained. “It’s really still about letting the game come to me, but still having an aggressive mindset.”

A couple weeks ago, I said that growth in the NBA was a process, not an event. Paul George is starting to accelerate that process, and the team is benefitting as a result.

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Here is how each guy played individually tonight. Agree? Disagree? Express your thoughts below in the comments or yell at me (@8pts9secs) or Tim (@TimDonahue8p9s) on Twitter.

David West, PF 28 MIN | 5-12 FG | 3-3 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 13 PTS | +18

Quiet game for David, but wasn’t really needed. His vision on the offensive end is really sharp, creating some nice buckets for George Hill, among others.

Paul George, SF 33 MIN | 9-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 20 PTS | +17

So good. So very, very good.

Roy Hibbert, C 30 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 12 PTS | +22

Not a big stat line tonight, but a solid performance. Early offense was what you really want to see from him.

George Hill, PG 29 MIN | 8-13 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 20 PTS | +24

Hill spent much of the early season as part of a two-man effort with David West trying to keep the team from spinning towards disaster. Now, he’s just a consistently good basketball player. Eighth straight game of 15 or more poitns.

Lance Stephenson, SG 25 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 PTS | +16

No stat line of mention, but was solid out there. To me, this still shows progress that he doesn’t have to be spectacular to contribute.

Miles Plumlee, PF 5 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | -4

Garbage time

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 15 MIN | 2-5 FG | 1-3 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 5 PTS | +6

Solid performance bouncing off big bodies

Jeff Pendergraph, PF 5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -4

Garbage Time

Sam Young, SF 15 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-1 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | +3

Bumped into Mike Sanders (literally) before the game. Sam is sort of a latter day Sanders – useful in small doses.

Gerald Green, SF 23 MIN | 7-12 FG | 3-5 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 21 PTS | +4

Draining threes. Check. Ridiculous dunk. Check. This was the idealized version of Gerald Green for the Pacers tonight.

Ian Mahinmi, C 13 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +2

Did what you want him to do.

Ben Hansbrough, PG 7 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +1

Missed a couple of ill-advised shots, but was otherwise adequate.

D.J. Augustin, PG 12 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | -5

Hit shots in a garbage time fourth quarter, but I think hitting shots consistently would get him his spot in the rotation back.

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