The Paul George Triple-Double Game


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Paul George probably just played the best playoff game of his career while missing 1o of the 13 shots he took. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince people that shot-making and playing great are two different things, but nothing I have ever written can show that as well as George’s did today.

He was brilliant. It wasn’t just the numbers: 23 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, 18 free-throw attempts.

It was the approach.

He was such a joy to watch because he was aggressive while still letting the game come to him.

Wait. What?

That seems contradictory, but for George those two outlooks are one in the same.

Tim Donahue, the other editor of this site and a guy who has spent a lot more time around these players than I have, has been struck by how Paul George discusses his approach to the game. Earlier in the season, when he first started to rise to another level of play, George would often say that he was trying to be more aggressive while still letting the game come to him. Then he would just sort of laugh to himself, knowing how silly that sentence sounds. But he just had no other way to describe what he was trying to do.

This game was that.

He was super aggressive at the times when he should be aggressive. See, if Larry Drew is going to put Kyle Korver on Paul George then Paul George should drive by him every time he catches the ball. Finding himself in that matchup and then being super aggressive when he has Korver on an island is letting the game come to him.

But the most important part is that, even when the game came to him and whispered in his ear, “pssst … just go right by this slow-footed offense-only player,” he did not force the issue.

George wasn’t bulldozing his way into the lane and throwing up low-percentage attempts just because he got into the paint. He has done that in the past. A ton of NBA players do it. There seems to be an entitlement factor to it. It’s as if the player thinks they have earned the shot attempt — the opportunity to put an extra 2 points in their personal stat column — because they made a nice move to get into the lane. It isn’t so different from the big man who will get an offensive board and then toss some lackluster shot towards the rim, thinking that “Hey, I earned this extra possession — I’m going to use it.”

In the regular season, George would fall into that trap a little bit. He didn’t seem to be simply trying to score just for his own personal desires, he just seemed like an inexperienced penetrator. He legitimately just hadn’t been in the situation enough where he was moving forward with the ball and sort of open but not really. So he would take a little dippy do fling towards the rim.

Today, he did none of that. He was a dart to the rim when he went. And when he was cut off mid-drive, he dished it to an open teammate.

It was a beautiful approach to behold.

I can’t recall a single instance in which he seemed to make the wrong decision. There was the comical half-court lob try that hit the rim. And there was the ineffective behind-the-back pass to David West on the break. But those were the result of poor execution more so than poor decision making.

He just attacked whenever it was time to attack and made the right play to pass off when it was time to give the ball up. Best of all, he was decisive about every move. When George plays his worst, you can almost see the gears turning in his head. It’s like he’s working through a checkdown list in his head as he plays around with the ball and scans the court for possibilities.

Today, he did none of that. He just went.

And it became contagious.

Tyler Hansbrough is the epitome of that mentality, so it was no surprise to see him come in and further instill that approach on the game. He grabbed boards relentlessly and seemed to be going up with a shot before he even had the ball in his hands.

Lance Stephenson — a guy who becomes the Raiders of the Lost Ark boulder in transition — didn’t get involved much early, but he made it count during the few occasions he had forays to the cup. He treated the rim like it owes him money on two different dunk attempts. But he, too, consistently made the right decisions, picking up 4 assists while taking just 9 shots in 41 minutes, the most played by anyone in the game other than Paul George (44 minutes).

Seriously, you would have told me I was nuts if, last summer, I had suggested that Lance Stephenson would have an excellent-yet-understated performance for 41 minutes while Indiana won its first playoff game by 17 points.

Perhaps even more encouraging than that was the fact that the Pacers didn’t over-rely on post action. Roy Hibbert got some interior touches that showed that he is completely over his early-season shooting struggles, and West got up 11 shots, but they just got good offense out of the perimeter all game long.

George Hill started the game hitting jumpers (he opened 6-for-6) while Paul George lived at the line. For the game, he took 18 free throws and made 17. The whole team adopted this style, and the result was Indiana getting 34 free-throw attempts compared to just 14 for Atlanta.

In a game in which he recorded the Pacers second-ever playoff triple double (the first was Mark Jackson in 1998), that might be the most impressive stat. It is the most-indicative number of how much his hands were all over this game.

In doing so, he helped show why when he plays at his best it usually means the Pacers play at their best. And when the Pacers play at their best, the Hawks can’t beat them.