George Stakes His Claim in Turf Battle

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After hitting the game’s biggest basket at the end of a personally frustrating evening, Paul George turned away from the action and screamed at the top of his lungs.

What did he scream?

“I think there’s video of it,” he said, smiling, but offering no clues.

Those who saw it on television or in person swear George shouted something along the lines of “This is my city!” Which could be taken as a rebuttal to the evening Brownsburg’s own Gordon Hayward had for Utah, and a declaration of his reclamation in a turf battle.

For most of the 48 minutes of the Pacers’ 107-100 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday, Hayward was having his way with the Pacers’ marquee player. He finished with a career-high 38 points, evenly-sprinkled throughout the game: 10 in each of the first three quarters and eight in the fourth. The Jazz made it a point to get him open and get him the ball with effective play calls and execution, and he delivered by hitting 16-of-24 field goal attempts.

George, meanwhile, was struggling. He missed all five of his field goal attempts in a scoreless first quarter, and all three in the second. By halftime, Hayward had outscored him 20-2. George, though, came alive in the third period with seven points, and then dominated the final two minutes.

The Pacers seemed to have the game under control with an 11-point lead with 3:18 left, but Utah responded with eight points over the next 67 seconds surrounding two Pacers turnovers. Joe Ingles hit a 3-pointer off an inbound play, Hayward hit a 3-pointer over George and then George Hill hit a driving layup, forcing a Pacers timeout.

George hit a 3-pointer off a called play on the ensuing possession, but Hill responded with a three-point play upon drawing a foul after faking Jeff Teague into the air and scoring in the lane with 1:45 left.

After exchanges of misses, the game came down to George going one-on-one against Hayward at the top of the key, dribbling, dribbling, back and forth, finally crossing over and hitting a 20-footer over Hayward’s outstretched hand for the game-clinching basket with 18.9 seconds left.

And that’s when George reclaimed the city from the local kid who’s made good.

“It’s basketball,” he said. “There’s going to be ups and downs, there’s going to be adversity you have to play through. But I’m a basketball player. I’m a warrior, man. I’m going to keep on fighting.

“Late in the games, that’s when I’m most confident.”

George scored just 19 points on 6-of-20 shooting, but had eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Four of his assists and both of his steals came in the first half, when the Pacers managed to lead by five points despite Hayward’s outburst – mostly because of C.J. Miles’ 13 points and Glenn Robinson III’s 32-foot banked 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Teague would have been the story for the Pacers if not for George’s scene-stealing flourish at the end. He scored 21 points and played 37 minutes without a turnover, and carried the Pacers through the third quarter with 12 points. He scored seven straight points early in the period to maintain a five-point lead, and later hustled back on defense after George’s turnover to block a layup attempt by Raul Neto. He converted that into a drive at the other end that drew a foul and resulted in two free throws.

“I haven’t gotten a block in a while,” he said. “It’s been a minute.”

Actually, not too many minutes. He had one in the victory over Miami on March 12. Still, it was one of the game’s biggest plays, a momentum-restoring moment that prevented the Jazz from pulling within two points.

Thaddeus Young deserves credit, too, for another effective performance with his sprained left wrist. He scored eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds, passed out three assists and picked off a steal. He also was the Pacers’ best defender, moving his feet, giving help and contesting shots. Most notably, he forced Hill and Rodney Hood into misses on fading jumpers on crucial possessions in the fourth quarter.

“Sometimes it feels good, sometimes it doesn’t,” Young said. “It’s a matter of how it feels that day. As of right now, I’m going to keep fighting and keep playing and keep doing things to stay involved in the game.”

The Pacers have now alternated wins and losses for 14 consecutive games, starting with their loss to Washington before the All-Star break. This one was typical of their nature.

They were coming off a 23-point loss in Toronto on Sunday, a game they were rested and prepared for. Utah, meanwhile, took a 43-27 record into Monday’s game and had Sunday off, which it devoted to a practice at Hinkle Fieldhouse, where Hayward and Shelvin Mack used to play for Butler.

The Pacers, however, responded as they usually do to their worst losses: with a solid performance, and a victory.

It’s mostly a home-road thing. The Pacers have won all five home games since the All-Star break, but have lost six of eight road games. The players admit the need for a tougher mindset outside the comforts of The Fieldhouse. Coming off Monday’s victory, their pattern of behavior doesn’t bode well for Wednesday’s game at Boston.

The Pacers thought they had turned a corner after their air-clearing conversations following last Tuesday’s loss at New York, but it only lasted for the next night’s win over Charlotte. By the time they got to Toronto on Sunday, the defensive energy and offensive cohesion was forgotten.

So, George has an idea.

“Maybe we need to talk heading to Boston on this flight,” he said.

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