The Indiana Pacers were determined to prove they belonged with the top teams in the NBA and they did just that this week by going a perfect 3-0 with various displays of hot shooting and suffocating defense.
They began the week by facing a familiar foe in John Wall and the Washington Wizards. The Pacers set a franchise record in three point percentage and most threes made in a game (19). Paul George and C.J. Miles provided all the firepower they would need and coasted to an easy victory.
The Pacers made a statement at home against their division rival, the Chicago Bulls. Paul George outdueled Jimmy Butler and the Pacers limited the Bulls' supporting cast as they had another double-digit victory.
The Pacers final game of the week was projected to be the easiest, but when a certain future Hall of Famer decided to announce his retirement at season's end, it changed the dynamic of the whole contest. Once again, Paul George rose to the challenge against his childhood idol and led the Pacers to a close four point victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The game in Washington seemed to be a test if the Pacers could defend a team with size and speed. There was no defense that would be needed as the Pacers' dynamic duo of C.J. Miles and Paul George were about to make a historic effort. The two teams combined for 123 points in the first half, as the Pacers led 62-61 with Miles and George combining for 39 of the Pacers 62 points. It seemed both teams were incapable of missing consecutive shots until the second half started. The Pacers began to pull away and continued to bomb threes as the Pacers extended their lead by a score of 93-82 going into the fourth quarter. The lead never got closer than nine points and the Pacers coasted to a 123-106 victory. Paul George and C.J. Miles combined for 72 points on 24-of-35 shooting (68.6 percent) and 15-of-17 (88.2 percent) on three-pointers. No duo this season has had a game like that, with the exception of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who combined for 91 points on Halloween night (stats courtesy of ESPN.com and NBA.com)
The next game, the Pacers hosted the Chicago Bulls in a physical and emotionally charged rematch against the I-65 rivals. The main matchup was Paul George against Jimmy Butler, but the unsung hero was Ian Mahinmi as he anchored the Pacers defense all night. The Pacers got off to a blazing start as they led 24-12 late into the first followed by Paul George's nine quick points. The Pacers continued their dominance toward the end of the first half as C.J. Miles led the charge, scoring 16 points in the first half. The pesky Bulls were able to mount an 8-2 run to finish the half and only trailed by nine heading into the intermission. The third quarter saw the Bulls inch closer at times and the Pacers become increasingly frustrated with the officiating. The Bulls closed the gap to a 66-62 Pacers lead when Paul George decided to take over and increase the lead back to double digits early in the fourth. Paul George scored 24 of his 33 points in the second half as the Pacers kept the Bulls at bay in the fourth and won, 104-92. The Pacers defense shined in this game as they forced seven steals on 15 Chicago turnovers and only allowed the Bulls to shoot 34.8 percent from the field.
The Pacers final game of the week was meant to be an easy start to their four game West Coast trip and a nice chance for Paul George to go against his childhood hero for the first time in a three year stretch. After Kobe Bryant's retirement announcement, the whole feeling of the game changed. The game was filled with emotion and admiration for Bryant as he attempted 15 shots in the first half but only made two. The Pacers played decent, but sloppy in the first half and should have led by more than 13 at 48-35. The Lakers at one point were only shooting eight percent from the field early in the second quarter and were a mess on the defensive side of the ball. The game was relatively forgettable for the first three quarters as the Pacers steadily extended the lead to 17 points behind Paul George's 27 points through three quarters. Nick Young and the Lakers caught fire in the fourth as the Pacers simply did not close out on shooters well enough down the stretch and the Lakers cut the lead down to 100-98 with 22 seconds remaining. The Pacers led 104-100 when Bryant hit a ridiculous and vintage three to cut the lead to 104-103. After two of Paul George's free throws, Bryant had another shot to tie the game but his shot missed to the right and the Pacers escaped with a 107-103 victory. George finished with another amazing performance as he scored 39 points on 10-of-21 shooting to go with four rebounds and two steals.
The Pacers scored at a very high rate as they averaged 111.3 points on 46 percent shooting for the week. Their defense was also pretty solid as they held opponents to 39 percent shooting for the week to go with 7.7 steals and 15.3 forced turnovers per game. They continued to smooth out and improve on their fast paced offense and their defense that is focused on deflections and speed.
Once again for the fifth straight week, Paul George is the "Super-Nova" hot Pacer of the week. George received Eastern Conference Player of the week honors as he averaged an incredible 37.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals. He also shot over 50 percent from both overall field goal percentage and three point percentage. He continues to lead the Pacers in their total team renovation and he is doing it at such an incredible rate, as he has led the Pacers to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and winners of 11 of their last 13.
X-Factor of the Week:
Ian Mahinmi may not have the stats of Paul George but he was definitely no less important. Mahinmi posted a net court rating of +37 which was second to Paul George. The one stat he improved this week that was a difference maker was his free throw shooting. Mahinmi shot 1-for-3 from the charity stripe against the Wizards but was put in a hacking situation against the Bulls and Lakers. In those moments he shot 11-for-16 which is a significant improvement over his sub 30 percent shooting to start the season. Shooting 63 percent may not seem like much but that may be enough to discourage other teams from hacking him late in games and can allow coach Frank Vogel to keep him on the floor in the clutch.
The Week Ahead:
The Pacers have games in Los Angeles, Portland, and in Utah this week as they face the Clippers on Wednesday, December 2nd. They leave Hollywood and travel to Oregon to face the Trail Blazers to complete their back-to-back on Thursday, December 3rd. They finish up their road trip in Utah against the Jazz on Saturday, December 5th.
It will be a tough matchup in Los Angeles against the Clippers, but the Pacers may catch a break if Chris Paul doesn't play as he has been diagnosed with a rib muscle strain. If Paul doesn't play, the Pacers definitely have increased chances of winning the game. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin will be extremely difficult for the Pacers lineup to handle and they will ultimately lose at the Staples Center this time. Paul George will just not be enough as the Pacers defense will fail them just long enough and they will lose a close contest.
The Pacers will rebound against a young and rebuilding Blazers team. Damian Lillard is also battling an injury and the fast paced Pacers offense will show off. The Pacers will have a suffocating defensive performance as the Pacers defenders will shut down Lillard and his backcourt teammate, C.J. McCollum. The Pacers will win going away in a game that will get out of hand early.
The Pacers last game of the week will have some extra meaning as the Jazz defeated the Pacers by 21 points at home earlier in the year. The Pacers will make a statement against a young rising team as Paul George will have another great game and he will go for 35+ points. The Pacers will have to deal with a hot Gordon Hayward but will seal the game late on their defense and close the week with a 2-1 record. They will return home with a 13-6 record before their matchup with the likely 22-0 Golden State Warriors.
2-1 for the week, 13-6 for season.
Paul George will average a double-double this week in points and rebounds.