The horn sounded and a substitution was imminent. Indiana Pacers guard Paul George paid no attention.
With his team down 19 points in the second half of Sunday’s 95-92 victory over the Wizards at Verizon Center, George would stay on the court for 46 minutes, 23 seconds. His team, desperately trying to fight its way back into the game, needed George on the floor.
“[The horn] wasn’t for somebody to come and get me,” George said. “I already had it in my head that I was probably going to play, pretty much go the whole distance.”
He did exactly that. George was a dominant force on both sides of the ball on Sunday as Indiana rallied for the win and took a commanding 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.
George shot 6-for-8 from 3-point range, made 8-of-10 free throws and finished with 28 points. George scored 13 of those points in the third quarter as Indiana went on a 17-2 run to trim a 19-point second-half deficit.
“[The Wizards] played a terrific basketball game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “But sometimes you can be undone by a special performance. And Paul George, what he did tonight was special. There’s no other way to put it.”
And while Beal finished with a game-high 20 points and five assists, he had to work for those points. Indiana took away Washington’s 3-point looks – it attempted just 15 on the night – and forced the Wizards to adjust. George’s aggressiveness forced Beal to take the ball to the basket more often and gave him less space to shoot open jumpers.
“He made my job tough. But at the same time, I think I got to try to do a better job of trying to get him tired as much as I can,” Beal said. “He had 39 or whatever how many points he had. He’s definitely a great defender. It’s a sign of respect to me, but at the same time I got to figure out ways to try to put the ball in the basket.”
On the offensive end, George “was under control and composed,” according to teammate David West. His teammates were able to find him with passes in rhythm so he could knock down those open 3-point shots. In the second half, George repeatedly got to the foul line as Washington tried to take away his looks from long range.
[George] is a two-way player. He’s dominant,” West said. “We don’t want him to get worn down. He was a little fatigued there in there third. But again I thought his will was strong enough to get us through, make enough plays, particularly with his hands, to keep us in the game
Before the game, Vogel asked George if he wanted some help chasing Beal around the court. Even for a player as physically gifted as George, hounding a shooting guard with 20-year-old legs is exhausting. He admitted he felt that at times in the third quarter even as he was still contributing at the offensive end.
But George refused Vogel’s offer of rest or help. In a regular season game, Vogel said he might have ordered his star off the court. In the playoffs while hitting one big shot after another? He was staying in. That horn sounded time and again for someone else.
“I hate not finishing off my assignment,” George said. “If coach tells me to guard somebody or if I feel I need to guard somebody, I want to make sure I get the job done. That’s all that was. I wanted to stay on my matchup. [Beal is] a guy that can get hot. I didn’t want to let him get hot.”