May 25, 2013, 12:06 AM EDT
As the final seconds of the third quarter wound down, Paul George dribbled at the top and sized up LeBron James, arguably the NBA’s best wing defender. Without the benefit of LeBron overplaying him or the absence of a rim protector, George drove left past LeBron and ferociously dunked over Chris Andersen as a foul was called on the pile of feathers that remained where Birdman previously existed.
After George made the free throw with 5.1 seconds remaining, LeBron took the inbound, pushed up court and leaned in for a 29-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.
George headed toward his bench as everyone watching delighted in an awesome end to the quarter, but LeBron called him back for a quick high five near midcourt. It was an incredible moment that could rank just below Isiah Thomas’ and Magic Johnson’s pregame kiss in NBA lore – if George takes takes the steps to be remembered as a star.
The high five, it should be noted, occurred closer to LeBron’s bench.
George is the breakout star of the 2013 conference finals, but LeBron is the star of everything, and this matchup is still unfolding on LeBron’s terms. Though the Pacers won Game 2, 97-93, LeBron (36 points on 14-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals) outplayed George (22 points on 9-of-16 shooting, six assists and two rebounds).
But the Pacers don’t need George to win this matchup, and if they did, they’d be in a world of trouble. Indiana needs George to hold his own, and so far, he’s doing that, which is truly incredible.
At times, George played neck and necked with the NBA’s greatest player, someone who’s playing as well as anyone has ever played this game.
In Game 1, LeBron (30 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocks) again bested George (27 points, five assists and four rebounds), but like tonight, George didn’t let LeBron dominate the matchup.
Any overtime game, as Miami’s Game 1 victory was, offers infinite opportunities for the losing team to regret a mistake. George turned the ball over a team-high six times in that game, and any one of those could have made the difference.
George got his turnovers under control tonight (just two in 39 minutes), but LeBron went the other direction. He had five turnovers tonight, including two passes stolen in the final 42 seconds with Miami down two points.
George didn’t steal either, and he didn’t do much to force either. But on both plays, he stuck close with LeBron and applied at least a little pressure.
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