CenterCourt: Have the Pacers Had Their Turning Point?
The trend to this point for the Pacers (35-33), is that each time they find some momentum or look to turn the corner they stumble. Since the all-star break the Pacers are 6-5, they haven’t lost two games in a row, nor have they won two in a row. They’ve had wins over tough teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and the red hot Miami Heat. They nearly defeated the San Antonio Spurs before some late game heroics from Kawhi Leonard. Yet, they’ve suffered horrible losses to the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets.
Their last loss came on March 14th, against the Knicks. While the Blizzard Stella had pounded the city for most of the day, it seemed the Pacers themselves had traveled on foot to the arena. They came out flat, so did the Knicks all things considered. However, the Pacers shot just 36 percent for the game in the 87-81 loss. Despite struggling shooting wise, Paul George led the Pacers in scoring against the Knicks. Continuing his role as the focal point of the offense.
Paul George’s name was all over the media around the trade deadline. Many writers, fans and myself included all thought of the possibility of him being moved. In the first half of the season, Paul George looked complacent. The Pacers were expecting him to be the leader, the guy and he hadn’t looked ready to take the reigns. Nor was he exceeding or reaching expectations that he himself put on himself, when he claimed he was going for MVP this season. Since the trade deadline passed, his game as a whole has elevated through 11 post all-star weekend games. George has raised his points per game, field goal and three point percentage and rebounds. He’s playing the most efficient basketball of his career, finally MVP type play.
After the Knicks loss the Pacers held a team meeting before their flight out for their game against the Charlotte Hornets the next day. According to Indystar.com, players vocalized their feelings and concerns and the talks continued on the flight back to Indy. The takeaway was for guys to trust one another and get behind Paul George.
The following night the Pacers obliterated the Hornets in a 98-77 victory. The Pacers had 26 team assists, 11 from Jeff Teague. Myles Turner grabbed 11 rebounds, Monta Ellis contributed 16 points off the bench, everyone had contributed in one way or another. All lead by Paul George who dropped a season high 39 points on 15/21 shooting.
The Pacers are sixth in the Eastern Conference with the red hot Milwaukee Bucks just a game back. The Pacers next three games include two potential first round match-ups with the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics as well as a game against the Utah Jazz. If the Pacers are going to get hot and find momentum heading into the playoffs this is the stretch that can finally give the Pacers an identity.
One thing is for certain, if Paul George continues his play of March where he’s averaging 27.5 points per game, 8.1 rebounds on 51.3 percent shooting. The Pacers will already have one foot in the right direction.