Paul George, likely in his brown fisherman’s hat, took a stroll outside on his property yesterday. Consumed with basketball for 82 games, countless practices, media requests, and community commitments, it was time to hit reset.
Fishing, one of George’s favorite interests, helps him gather his thoughts and be in his own small world. Don’t act as if we all don’t enjoy getting away at times, because we do. When the most important aspect of our lives — basketball in George’s case — goes awry, you find yourself soul searching.
The max contract extension George inked with the Indiana Pacers last offseason certainly entails that he has “superstar” as a target. With that goal comes pressure that none of us can explain, and the NBA’s upper-echelon is asked to deal with it on a game-by-game basis.
“I was out there for about a good 35 minutes to an hour,” George said Wednesday of his fishing adventure. “I didn’t want to make [Indiana's struggles] worse by getting sick.”
There was a breeze along with the warm weather Indianapolis received on Tuesday afternoon. Not even relaxing on a boat comes easy these days it seems.
Since the highs of an emotional win over Miami on March 26, the Pacers have seen only lows. The sense of urgency, mental awareness, and physical effort surely never made the two-game road trip to Washington and Cleveland, as Indiana dropped two straight contests to teams without 40 victories. By an average defeat of 13.5 points, the Pacers failed to break the 80-point mark in the two away games, which set them up for disaster when the legend came to town. The legend we refer to until the day we die, is Tim Duncan.
San Antonio ransacked Bankers Life Fieldhouse, ripping apart the minuscule ounce of toughness and vitality Indiana possessed.
After yet another setback, George decided he needed to get away from it all, even if only for a little while. “It was just the point of being out there [fishing] and having a free moment to myself,” George said.
Maybe that will help. Maybe all this team needs is to get some fresh air and block out the media uproar about the number one seed.
NBA aficionados will fire back that it’s important to claim home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They would be correct, any way you slice it. Nonetheless, stressing over the issue of who has a higher number in the regular season win column isn’t what the Pacers need with seven games remaining. Instead, chemistry has to be renewed, and George continues to stress the fact that “fun” basketball is a non-negotiable for success.
“If we can recapture fun, recapture playing as a group, and having that excitement back, that’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “That’s us when we were in our prime.”
In December and throughout January, the ball moved inside-out and around the perimeter smoother than this group has ever demonstrated. Hero basketball, one-on-one isolation sets, and abhorrent post positioning have to all find their way out the door. When the team was cruising — 40-11 in their first 51 games — the Pacers appeared to get bored with winning. Now, they’ve made it a challenge for themselves. A challenge that, if they don’t overcome, could possibly be the match that sets their title dreams on fire.
After Wednesday’s shootaround, George revealed that body language is indeed affecting how they view their team.
“Body language has to do with everything,” said George. “You read body language. It puts you in a funk when everybody’s not on the same page.”
After costly turnovers or shots that are just bouncing off the iron, each member has been credited for displaying negative emotions. Most notable can be Lance Stephenson and George Hill’s spat on the bench during Monday’s game vs. San Antonio, which was not shown on the broadcast.
The only way to secure the Eastern Conference one seed, or even get back to viewing their team as a collective unit, will be to play with the unselfish attitudes, and stop looking to point the finger.
Without catching a single fish, it’s safe to assume George ran each of those details back in his head, and reminisced on how enjoyable the first half of the season proved to be.
The Pacers have one fish to catch, but it can only be captured in June.
Until then, they just need to buy the correct bait to have a chance.
Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for 8 Points, 9 Seconds and HoopsHabit.com. For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter. You can contact Shane via email at [email protected].