TORONTO — One more bucket and maybe the Pacers’ Paul George would’ve had some hardware to commemorate his Sunday night showing in Toronto.
George’s 41 points during Sunday night’s All-Star performance, part of a 196-173 loss by the Eastern Conference, was one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star record. However, George’s nine 3-pointers were a record, and the 173 points scored by his team were more than any All-Star team had scored before Sunday. Unfortunately, the West’s 196 shattered the former high of 163 as well.
“I think to start out, everyone wants a chance to win MVP in the All-Star Game,” said George, who lost out on the award to the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. “That was definitely a goal.”
George is certainly one of the NBA’s 15 best players, but this night’s performance — and the possible All-NBA season he is having — weren’t necessarily a given.
It wasn’t that long ago that George was rehabbing a broken leg, one which he shattered in August of 2014 during Team USA’s opening scrimmage before the team shipped off to win the FIBA World Cup. George missed almost all of last season before returning in April to play limited minutes in the final six contests for a Pacers team that was out of the playoff picture.
“I had a hard-fought summer, hard-fought rehab year,” George said. “It was just a very upward climb. It took every day and really every moment of rehab to get through it. There were a lot of days where I felt like I was down and out, but just stayed with it.”
It was more than just an unfortunate development. The Pacers wing made All-NBA Third-Teams as a 22- and 23-year-old in 2013 and 2014. And the leg injury was an obvious hurdle. From the outside, though, it appears George, with or without a healthy stub, jumped it with ease.
“I’m actually amazed looking at him,” Western Conference All-Star coach Gregg Popovich said. “Every time he runs up and down the floor and jumps for those dunks and everything, I’m thinking, wow, the human body must be amazing. It really must be amazing.”
Sunday night wasn’t out of character for the now 25-year-old George. He’s in the midst of the best season of his career. He remains one of the NBA’s best defensive players. On top of that, he’s posting career-high efficiency numbers while shooting more than ever before.
Efficiency and usage are supposed to have inverse relationships. Unless you’re getting better. That’s exactly what’s happening with George, who has helped the currently No. 6-seeded Pacers back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture after a one-year hiatus from April and May basketball.
“To come back and play at that level athletically, it just stuns me every time I see him out there,” Popovich continued. “… I know it’s taken him a while, but it’s pretty incredible. It’s great that he’s back.”
It’s meaningful that George is playing like this, even in a game where meaning is hard to come by. When LeBron James was asked if passing Kobe Bryant on Sunday to become the all-time scoring leader in All-Star Game history meant anything, for example, he shrugged it off.
“It means absolutely nothing,” he deadpanned.
The individual act of George coming within a point of Wilt means similarly little — even if approaching any WILT scoring record is all-caps deserving. Solely dropping in nine triples doesn’t mean anything, either. But there is some symbolism behind it.