For Paul George, duty calls. The duty of a star, and the duty of a leader. When the skies are suddenly darkening, what does a team need? A big game from its big gun.
That is where the Indiana Pacers are at the moment. The Miami Heat blew through Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday as if Tony Kanaan was driving them. They lead the series now 2-1, and another Pacers loss at home in Game 4 tonight would probably be fatal.
“Real mandatory,” George called it Monday.
Real correct. That comes down to simple math and logic. Is it possible to imagine the Heat blowing a 3-1 advantage, with two of the games in Miami? Not hardly. So the biggest crossroads of the postseason to date beckons Indiana, and its leading man knows it.
“If we want to be in their position, we’ve got to show where we’re at,” George was saying. “It’s going to show what we’re made of.”
Added coach Frank Vogel, “We saw what Miami looked like with their backs against the wall. Now it’s our turn to show what we look like with our backs against the wall.”
This is when a star must deliver, with points and defense and anything else needed. This is always LeBron James’ time, and Tim Duncan’s time, and Kobe Bryant’s time. It must be George’s time.
“I put a lot on me. I always try to be a leader,” George said. “This is just another level for me to grow from.”
Sunday was bad news for George at both ends. Offensively, unable to penetrate much against a Miami defense stacked to slow him down, he was 3-for-10 shooting and produced only 13 points. Quiet. Too quiet. All five Miami starters scored more than that.
What happened on defense was even worse. James took him inside, posted him up, scored when he wanted to. Slow to help, George’s teammates too often left him alone on an island with James. In the playoffs, it’d be safer to be left alone on an island with a starving tiger.
“He has to know they’re there,” George said of James and his helpers. “If he’s getting five or six dribbles, it’s tough to guard that. But it starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job battling.”
Another night of defense like Sunday just won’t do. Indiana had allowed its opponents a scoring average of 90.6 in its first 14 postseason games. Miami had 91 in Game 3 — at the end of three quarters. The Heat were so unfazed by whatever the Pacers were trying to do to stop them, they had but five turnovers.
It left George delivering a short homily on the trials and tribulations of playing the Heat.
“We can’t allow that in our home,” he said. “We’re playing the defending champions. You let them get comfortable, it’s going to be a long night.
“To come out and know that we were going to get their best, to know that we were going to see why they’re champions, to really test them on that note, it was disappointing. That’s how champions come out and play. That’s how they respond. Now it’s on us.”
And he understands, now it’s on him. If you’re the main man for a contender, every night in the playoffs is crunch time. No Pacer might be having to grow this spring more than Paul George.
“There’s no way I should be tired or get tired, or not want to be in the moment at this time,” he said. “We still get to play basketball. That’s something we should be very proud of at this point.”
Tonight might go a long way in determining how much longer they get to play basketball.