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Paul George reminds us how bright the Pacers’ future can be

May 29, 2014, 1:56 AM EDT

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers - Game 5 Getty Images

LeBron James went around a Chris Bosh screen and threw a pass to Dwyane Wade. The Heat were using their three best players, a formula the Pacers have been unable to solve the last few years, dropping playoff series to Miami in 2012 and 2013 – and, maybe by the end of the week, 2014.

Suddenly, Paul George jumped the passing lane, stole the ball, surged toward the rim and separated himself from the Heat.

Erik Spoelstra stepped on the court and signaled timeout before George even dunked.

Miami, the back-to-back defending NBA champions, can keep stifling the Pacers. For now.

But George and crew won’t stop coming.

Indiana beat the Heat in Game 5 Wednesday, extending the Eastern Conference Finals at least to a Game 6 Friday and maybe a Game 7 Sunday. Even if the Pacers drop one of those, this is not over.

Lance Stephenson (23), George (24) and Roy Hibbert (27) are younger than Miami’s youngest starter – Mario Chalmers (28), and Chalmers is only 15 days younger than George Hill. The Pacers are too youthful, too hungry and too experienced to quit now.

Only Oklahoma City (in 2011 and 2012) has made back-to-back conference finals in the current 16-team playoff format with a lower average age than the Pacers, who have an average age of 26.4* in the last two postseasons.

*Weighted by minutes played in the playoffs, using a player’s age Feb. 1 of that season.

Of course, age alone doesn’t guarantee Indiana will eventually advance further. This team needs work – better chemistry, better ball-handling, better passing, better reserves and maybe better coaching.

But when George plays like he did tonight, it should be clear how high the ceiling and how wide the window are for Indiana.

At times, George looks like the NBA’s most athletic 3-and-D player. That role makes him extremely serviceable, good enough to help an otherwise talented Pacers team join the Eastern Conference elite. If his career unfolds as a 3-and-D+++ player who never taps his full potential, that would hardly be a tragedy.

Yet, there’s no reason George can’t become so much more.

With the Pacers’ season on the line, he scored 37 points, grabbed six rebounds and made six steals. He looked every bit a superstar, and if he hits that peak more often, he’ll be one rather than just imitate one from time to time.

Like George, the Pacers are still finding themselves. This is in no way a team on its last legs, even if its on its last legs in this series.

On the other hand, Indiana’s foil – Miami – is the third-oldest conference finalist in the last 15 years with an average age of 31.0. The Heat must either add youth to their supporting cast with little flexibility below the luxury-tax line, or they’ll eventually age out of contention.

There’s no guarantee Indiana will supplant them, but George has the potential to ensure it happens. He pulled the Pacers into a Game 6. He can pull them deeper into championship contention.

Game 5 was not a changing of the guard. The Heat still lead this series 3-2, and they’ll still likely win it.

But Paul George and the Pacers are making waves that could erode Miami’s beach soon. Maybe as soon as next season.

  1. RavenzGunnerz - May 29, 2014 at 2:00 AM

    Next time maybe Lance should just stick his tongue into LeBron’s ear. Until LeBron punches him and gets a 1 game suspension. Mission Accomplished.

    • bkbell3 - May 29, 2014 at 6:03 AM

      test1

  2. antistratfordian - May 29, 2014 at 2:06 AM

    “…Has the look of a potential championship contender…”

    Well that has to be the most cautious statement of all cautious statements. I think all 30 teams consider themselves a potential championship contender.

    • asimonetti88 - May 29, 2014 at 10:58 AM

      All 30 teams might fancy themselves potential championship contenders.

      Only 3 of them have been back to back conference finals.

  3. seattlesuperchronic - May 29, 2014 at 3:21 AM

    Let the knee jerking begin.

  4. cantonbound13 - May 29, 2014 at 5:12 AM

    Concussion must have finally wore off. Beware of a Dirty Wade elbow, or knee to the head in game 6.

  5. sportfan2 - May 29, 2014 at 7:08 AM

    Good game tonight, but George makes to many mistakes on the court for me to consider him a really great player.

    • bball242322 - May 29, 2014 at 10:56 AM

      He’s only 24 man. Give him time to completely develop. He wasn’t like LBJ who was a freak athlete by the time he was 14…PG played like a superstar lastnight, and he will be a superstar for years to come. His D is just top notch. 2nd best 2 way player in the league behind LBJ

  6. 1972wasalongtimeago - May 29, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    I don’t know about Indiana’s distant future, but on Friday Indiana’s future does NOT include LeBron guarding George Hill or on the bench.

    Whole lot easier playing the Heat when you don’t have to guard LeBron when you’re on defense, when he’s not guarding you when you’re on offense, or when he’s playing the 4th quarter not to foul.

    But after playing only 23 minutes last night, LeBron’s going 44+ on Friday. Get your rest PG. Stay off those chat sites.

    • moppop - May 29, 2014 at 9:23 AM

      Keep in mind that Mia was +13 with Lebron off the court in game 5. Even the king has his mortal moments.

      • buffalowned - May 29, 2014 at 1:35 PM

        Well that must mean that he never would have gotten going if he were actually on the floor. Maybe the Heat are better without him? Maybe he shouldn’t even play game 6?

  7. newyorkball82 - May 29, 2014 at 7:57 AM

    You do realize that in 23 minutes he went 2 for 10 from inside the 3, and 1 for 3 from three point range? The heat were +13 without him on the court. Indiana had to deal with the same problem of their starters being in foul trouble early in the last two games.
    Indiana doesn’t have five big time players waiting on the bench though when their starters get in foul trouble like the heat do though.

    • 1972wasalongtimeago - May 29, 2014 at 8:37 AM

      You can’t be aggressive on D and you can’t go hard to the rim when you’re getting called for breathing. 3 of the fouls (and even though LBJ would never say it) were complete garbage (#2,3,&5), one was extremely ticky tac (touch on Hibbert), and one was legit (#1 on George). So how can he play his normal game when a sneeze will get him fouled out?

      • bball242322 - May 29, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        Are u gonna cry about it?

      • bougin89 - May 29, 2014 at 11:36 AM

        C’mon.

        For all the times Lebron plays so physical without getting called for fouls he’s bound to have moments where is is called fouls against him, even if they are extremely ticky tacky/questionable. Stop the whining Lebron has plenty of time to get his revenge in the form of defeating the Pacers.

  8. finsfan71 - May 29, 2014 at 8:18 AM

    Good win for the Pacers, they needed it and got it. PG played like a man possessed in the final :30.

  9. sportsfan18 - May 29, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    The Pacers have not put the Heat and the league on notice yet.

    The Heat won a game at Indy.

    If the Pacers win in Miami and force a game 7, THEN they will have put the Heat on notice.

    Overall, the Heat have played better, won on the Pacers home court and are ahead in the series still.

    It took one of the worst, if not the worst, games of LBJ’s playoff career and the Pacers still barely won.

    Then, this tidbit from the article…

    “Indiana beat the Heat in Game 5 Wednesday, extending the Eastern Conference Finals at least to a Game 6 Friday and maybe a Game 7 Sunday. Even if the Pacers drop one of those, this is not over.”

    It says that if the Pacers drop one of those (meaning game 6 or game 7) this is not over.

    Well, I have news for you. If the Pacers drop game 6, it IS over… as they are currently down 3 games to 2.

    More news for you, if ANY team drops a game 7, it IS over…

    • sportsfan18 - May 29, 2014 at 9:22 AM

      Yes, Lance is young… Maybe he matures soon (most do sooner or later)… but it appears as if the Pacers are going to part ways with Lance.

      His pay has gone up and they won’t resign him, most likely.

      So I’m not counting on Lance being a part of their being youthful going forward…

      Hopefully Hibbert doesn’t go all Chuck Knoblach with his disastrous post season and have it carry forward and affect him next season.

      The basket is Hibbert’s first base… he can’t find it or throw anything at it and hit it, get it in the hoop…

    • asimonetti88 - May 29, 2014 at 11:00 AM

      “It says that if the Pacers drop one of those (meaning game 6 or game 7) this is not over.

      Well, I have news for you. If the Pacers drop game 6, it IS over… as they are currently down 3 games to 2.”

      You’re missing the point. Unless you believe the Pacers won’t be playing in the NBA anymore.

    • bball242322 - May 29, 2014 at 11:04 AM

      Yeah they barely won with LBJ off the court but Heat’s bench players like rashard lewis don’t normally drain 6 straight 3’s or however many there was. Ray Allen yes, Lewis, no. Those 3 point shots kept Mia in the game

  10. void96eater - May 29, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    David West is getting older.

    Stephenson could leave.

    The bench still sucks.

    I don’t agree with this article at all.

    • bball242322 - May 29, 2014 at 11:08 AM

      PG rising superstar

      Lance won’t be anything without Larry Bird and the Pacers. He will stay

      Larry is always looking to improve the bench (this yr’s bench was way better than last year)

      I completely agree with this article. Pacers will be in contention for many years to come

    • void96eater - May 29, 2014 at 11:17 AM

      Larry doesn’t have all the money in the world to spend. He may not even be able to keep this current group together next year.

      • bougin89 - May 29, 2014 at 11:42 AM

        You haven’t looked at their payroll, have you? They can afford to keep Lance, the question will be how much they want to keep him.

      • moppop - May 29, 2014 at 11:58 AM

        @bougin89

        Herb Simon is very keen on NOT dipping into the luxury tax.

      • sportsfan18 - May 29, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        Think about this for a moment.

        The Spurs. Good, older team, established coach and front office…

        Trio of vet stars in Duncan, Parker and Manu…

        Kawhi Leonard is young and turning into a beast for them…

        Now, think about the Heat. Good, older team, established coach and front office.

        Trio of vet stars in LBJ, D Wade and Bosh

        The Heat should sign Lance when the Pacers don’t as they have the players and front office to keep in check, in line and he could turn into their version of Kawhi Leonard…

        Wouldn’t that be something? A way for the Heat to continue beating the Pacers in the playoffs for the next 5 to 7 yrs…

      • sportsfan18 - May 29, 2014 at 2:12 PM

        bougin89

        there is NO way you’ve looked at the Pacers payroll…

        Lance is on the books for ZERO dollars next season.

        the Pacers payroll is ALREADY at $65.7 million next season without Lance at all…

        the luxury tax line will be around $62 million or so for this coming season (I haven’t heard what it is if it’s been finalized yet)

        Here are the Pacers payrolls by year and these are WITHOUT ANYTHING for Lance.

        Lance will get offers around $8 million or so from a team or two I’d imagine.

        14/15 $65.7 million payroll
        15/16 $57 million payroll
        16/17 $26.1 million payroll

        The next two seasons would definitely be in the luxury tax if they sign Lance.

        Could they? Yes, it’s possible. It’s up to the owner, who in the past has been like other owners (like the Thunder owners, like the Bulls owners) and avoided paying the luxury tax.

        They are NOT in a good position tax wise for the next two seasons.

        stats from HoopsHype… here is link showing Pacers salaries in years going forward, lest you think I’m making them up…

        http://hoopshype.com/salaries/indiana.htm

      • sportsfan18 - May 29, 2014 at 2:15 PM

        oh yeah, in two seasons from now, when the Pacers payroll is “ONLY” $57 million…

        that $57 million is ONLY for 6 players.

        Since they obviously need MORE players on the team than 6, they will have to sign many more.

        The Pacers simply don’t have room for another salary in the $6 to $8 million a year range for many seasons… certainly not next year and the year afterward…

  11. newyorkball82 - May 29, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    It’s not even worth arguing about. The pacers won, which is no guarantee of a win in game 6, but they won and the heat lost this game. There can be excuses made for both sides on all these games, but the series is still up for grabs.

    • jimeejohnson - May 29, 2014 at 11:19 AM

      Agree with you.

  12. 25yearindyfan - May 29, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    The Pacers future will be fine.

    My question to Heat fans…

    If Lebron goes back to Cleveland, will you still be Heat fans? Or will you suddenly become Cavs fans? You know he will bail as soon as they lose.

    • bball242322 - May 29, 2014 at 11:09 AM

      That’s a great question. So many bandwagon fans, it’s tough to tell what they’ll do

    • finsfan71 - May 29, 2014 at 2:14 PM

      Are you another sports nerd that believes life revolves around an allegiance to sports teams? Who cares if Heat fans go away? Who cares if you’re a 25yearindyfan? You people take this stuff much to seriously. If the team you root for wins, good for you. If they don’t I’m pretty sure the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. Get a life, buddy.

  13. mnsadsportsfan - May 29, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    The Heat are just toying with the Pacers. They can huff and puff, but we all know the pacers have zero toughness and are a bunch of whining little babies. Get your fishin pole real Paul George cause you are going to be doin a lot of it very soon!

    • bball242322 - May 29, 2014 at 11:11 AM

      Yeah Heat lost because they’re “toying” with the Pacers. LMAO dumbest comment on here. Of course the Heat want to get this series over with ASAP so they can rest up for the finals. Heat lost because they got outplayed this particular game. Get outta here with stupid comments like that

      • arrondior - May 29, 2014 at 4:11 PM

        Losing a game by one possession isn’t getting outplayed. That’s why we have a best of 4, 7 game series. To determine the best team. The Pacers are getting outplayed.

  14. cruzan80 - May 29, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    As crazy as this may sound…I wouldn’t be “shocked” if the Pacers won this series. They’ve looked dead in the water twice in these playoffs. Yes, the Heat are NOT the Hawks or Wizards but the fact is these guys have played under crazy pressure & scrutiny all post season only to keep advancing.

    I think even Heat “fans” have to admit that the Pacers possess the talent required to beat the Heat. They don’t have the same problem the Spurs are currently experiencing where it’s an X’s & O’s issue with the return of Ibaka. This is more a matter of mental toughness.

    Now with that being said, if I were a betting man I’d say this series is over tomorrow night…but if there’s a different outcome I wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

    • bball242322 - May 29, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      Well said

  15. bball242322 - May 29, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    PG played like the man last night. 6 steals, incredible. What a great game on both sides of the ball. Future face of the NBA once LBJ gets a little older

  16. 1historian - May 29, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    If George can do it in MIAMI coming down the stretch – then he’s for real.

    • gostlcards5 - May 29, 2014 at 2:44 PM

      No reason to think he can’t. He had 2 or 3 good (1 of them GREAT) games in Miami last season during the ECF.

  17. nard100 - May 29, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    I think it is a riot that this team didn’t have to deal with LBJ and could only manage a 3 point victory AT HOME. This series is over on Friday for sure. Also, what little respect I had for Stephenson went down the drain on Wed. Total punk. Can you imagine what a western conf team would do to these clowns?

    • bball242322 - May 30, 2014 at 4:13 PM

      Rashard lewis won’t be hitting 6 3′s in key moments of the game. Allen was on fire. Heat were +13 without LBJ on the court and -4 with him on the court. Game 6 will be a different story, Heat’s bench won’t be blazing hott like they were last night. Pacers will win in dramatic fashion to push this to game 7

  18. jgillmeister - May 29, 2014 at 2:23 PM

    Not with big clumsy (Roy Hibbert) in the line-up.

  19. davidly - May 29, 2014 at 5:11 AM

    btw: should have used irony quotes around “conventional wisdom”. What I mean is “a not uncommon reactive opinion”.

  20. davidly - May 29, 2014 at 5:45 AM

    Not sure if my first comment ‘ll make it through, as it strays beyond the character limit apparently. Anything goes as long as it’s tweet-length.

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