Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 9:00 PM
It’s been quite a few days for Paul George of the Indiana Pacers. On Sunday, he earned a triple-double to lead his team to a blowout victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game One of their Eastern Conference playoff series. On Tuesday, he was named “Most Improved Player” of the year in the NBA. That either means he’s about to become a breakout star…or he’s about to learn the pressure of expectations.
First let’s talk about Sunday. George was the star of the game because he scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and dished out 12 assists. Now, the bad news….
*He was only 3 of 13 shooting, which might be one of the worst performances ever within a triple double! He was able to score 23 points because the refs kept putting him on the free throw line. Hey, 17 of 18 from the charity stripe is nothing to sneeze at. But, referees tend to swallow their whistles as a series develops. If he stops going to the line…then he’s just the guy who went 3 of 13 from the floor.
*He was 0 of 5 from behind the three-point line, which is bad enough. That means he was also 3 of 8 from inside the arc…which means he couldn’t do much beyond earn free throws. He also turned the ball over 4 times.
*He played a whopping 44 minutes even though the Pacers led by double digits in the third quarter and coasted home. There would be a lot more triple doubles if everyone was playing 44 minutes! One of the main reasons George was able to crack double digits in rebounds and assists was because he was on the floor so long against a team that had given up.
*He was playing in the East, where the lesser seeds aren’t really “playoff caliber” by overall league standards. Atlanta was 15-27 this year against teams at .500 or better (now 15-28). So, he compiled his Sunday stats in extended minutes against a borderline playoff team that had fallen way behind. You can probably trace some of his “Most Improved Award” to his conference as well. It’s easy to put up good numbers in the lousy East. Remember Linsanity?
As you handicap the Pacers going forward…it’s important to remember that George will be getting special attention from Atlanta’s defense the rest of the way, and he’ll then be expected to lead the team against resurgent New York in the second round…and then powerhouse Miami in the Eastern Finals if the Pacers upset the Knicks. These hours leading up to tip off of Game Two may be the happiest George is going to be!
Can George continue to at least dominate the Hawks in this series? JIM HURLEY has been studying that issue very closely as he tries to map out tonight’s best expectations and what we’ll see in Atlanta for Games three and four. His computer simulations are in play. His on-site sources have contributed their thoughts. And, his statheads have crunched the numbers from George’s best and worst performances this year.
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Back with you tomorrow with our first NOTEBOOK look at Milwaukee and Miami. By Saturday we’ll have touched on all eight first round series. Coverage will continue throughout the Spring as we discuss the NBA Playoffs from a handicapping perspective. Watch TNT, ESPN, and the NBA Network for the games…but link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for insights about how to bet!