Injury Behind Him, George Back to Playing at Elite Level
By Kevin Cottrell Jr. | Special to NBA.com
It’s the summer of 2014.
Indiana Pacers forward Paul George wraps up the toughest offseason workouts of his career. His regimen was simple: hard work and attention to detail will net great on-court production.
Prior to unveiling his new talents for the Pacers, George would put his skills to the test as a key member of Team USA. The game’s brightest stars traveled to Las Vegas to participate in a mini-camp that concluded with a Blue and White exhibition game. Fans gathered in the Thomas and Mack Center to witness the beginning of a gold medal run and instead left with an unforgettable image.
With 9:33 remaining in the fourth quarter, George chased down James Harden in transition. While leaping to contest Harden’s layup attempt, George’s leg collided with the basket’s stanchion. As fans and players looked on in disbelief, Paul was learning that he suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula. Months of hard work resulted in hours of surgery, having to repair the fractures and placing a pin in his leg. Although many wondered if Paul would ever regain his All-Star form, he was confident that he would return better than ever.
Sixteen months since the horrific injury, onlookers are baffled at just how prolific George’s game has become. Speaking to those close to him, they remember his determination throughout the recovery process.
“He was in the weight room every day, ball handling every day. He did so much to prepare himself to have everything in his game sharp.” said Pacers forward C.J. Miles. “As soon as he was able to put everything on that leg, he was going to be fine because he worked so hard. He didn’t have all of his full court speed yet but he could still get to the rim and finish at the basket. I told him last year, you dunk more than anybody I’ve ever seen that broke their leg!”
Paul continues to soar to new heights. His eye-popping November included a span of 12 consecutive games scoring 20 or more points, the longest such streak of his career. This past Saturday, George’s hot shooting continued with a career-high 48 points in Utah, fourth most in Pacers history.
|Most Points In Single Game — Indiana Pacers|
On Tuesday, George and the Pacers played host to the undefeated Golden State Warriors. It was Indiana’s chance to prove that they could compete with the reigning champs and for George to prove that he could go toe-to-toe with the reigning Kia MVP. Stephen Curry was a teammate of George’s on Team USA. Despite his courtside view of Paul’s injury, the point guard expected a full recovery from George.
“I’m not surprised,” said he NBA’s leading scorer. “Guys like that who obviously rely on their work ethic and their hard work just to get to the league, establish themselves when they go through certain situations like [Paul’s injury]. That gets them through the tough times. The surgeries, injuries and things like that. So he had that already established so it’s great to see him back.”
Entering Thursday’s play, George ranks third in scoring (27.9), second in 3-pointers made (69), and ninth in minutes per game (36.3). Some have questioned his durability, but in the three seasons prior to his injury, George missed a total of five games. Those long hours rehabbing and adding to his game continue to show up in the final box score. This season George has scored 30 or more points nine times, nearly half of the Pacers’ 20 games played this season. In contrast, in his first 292 career games, Paul scored 30 or more points in 15 games.
Despite the fast start, Paul is not content with Player of the Month awards. After all, he entered the league as a 20-year-old project out of Fresno State. From there he became a starter, elite defender, leading scorer and an All-Star. Prior to this season, George made it clear that his goal was to be the Kia MVP. Currently, Curry is in the pole position for the award, but George is keeping pace, posting career numbers across the board. Since his first season as a full-time starter (2011-12), his growth suggests his dream of hoisting the Maurice Podoloff trophy may soon become a reality.
|Paul George Stats As A Starter|
Hoops fans around the globe felt his pain that August night. The replay of George’s injury has been viewed by millions, prompting fans to wonder if he would ever regain his status as one of the league’s best two-way players. While some suggested his best basketball was behind him, George was confident that hard work would make him an even better player.
“I worked hard going into the injury,” the two-time All-star said. “Then coming out of the injury I worked even harder. It’s really been two years of training that I’ve put in. I knew once the injury was over, rehab was over and got back on the court, I would be much improved.”
Yes, and it shows.
George was right. Not only has the 25 year old performed at an elite level, he’s playing the best ball of his career. During the month of November, George led Eastern Conference players in scoring (27.2 PPG) while collecting 8.1 RPG and 4.4 APG. The Pacers were a conference-best 11-2 and George was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month.
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