Pacers vs. Heat: Duel with LeBron James Will Elevate Paul George to Superstardom

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Pacers vs. Heat: Duel with LeBron James Will Elevate Paul George to Superstardom
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1 of the Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers series was classic. The Heat prevailed 103-102 in overtime and the contest featured a battle between two of the NBA's best small forwards.

One of them is the best player on the planet, the other is a young, underrated, physically gifted and mentally tough rising star.

LeBron James is obviously the former and Paul George the latter.

While King George will never quite reach King James' level as an individual star, this series will continue the momentum George established throughout the regular season. 

The 23-year-old averaged 17.4 points, 4.1 assists and 7.6 rebounds per game during the regular season. He was voted second-team All-Defense and won the NBA's Most Improved Player award.

image from Paul George's Instagram account

On Thursday, the honors just kept rolling in as George was named to his first All-NBA team, per NBA.com.

The NBA Guru tweets yet another distinction for the Pacers star.

As it relates to small forwards, George is second only to LeBron when it comes to excellence on both ends of the floor. This is part of what makes this matchup so compelling. When we look back at George's ascent to superstar status, this duel with LeBron will stick out in our minds.

Nothing validates a player's stardom like excellent performances against the best players at the same position. Take a look at this highlight reel of the George-James duel from Game 1:

NBA on YouTube

In the Pacers' last series, George harassed Carmelo Anthony into 43 percent shooting from the field. 

That was nearly 2 percent worse than his regular-season total. Melo did get his regular-season scoring average of 28 points per game, but he had to take six more shots per game to attain it.

Great scorers are going to score—that's a fact. The only thing a great defender can do is make things as difficult and uncomfortable as possible.

George did that to Melo and he did it to LeBron on Wednesday night. James messed around and had a triple-double (30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists), but if you saw the game, the only easy bucket he had was the game-winner.

image from NBA and h/t HoopDoctors.com

On that play, George's aggressiveness on defense caused him to overplay, but Frank Vogel didn't do him any favors by having Roy Hibbert on the bench. Not even George has much of a prayer to stop LeBron with no rim protector on the floor.

No other small forward in the league is equipped to give LeBron more of a challenge.

I'm not ready to say George is better than Kevin Durant, but I will say Oklahoma City hides Durant on defense. During the 2012 NBA Finals, Durantula was rarely matched up with James. When he was, the results weren't pretty.

James made the biggest play of the game on Wednesday night, but his heroics were necessary because of how great George was down the stretch and in overtime.

ESPN's J.A. Adande gives both men their props:

George drained a three-pointer over LeBron from Gainesville to force overtime. One shot of James afterwards showed a facial expression that seemed to convey this thought: "Nothing I could do about that, the guy just made an amazing shot."

After Dwyane Wade fouled George shooting a three with the Pacers down two in overtime, George calmly swished all three foul shots to set up James' game-winning drive.

Where would you rank Paul George among NBA small forwards?

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This situation came after one of the greatest free-throw shooters in history, Ray Allen, split a pair to keep Indiana alive. That makes George's three free throws in a hostile environment look even more clutch.

On the night, he had 27 points, four rebounds and five assists. Most impressive about his line is the fact that 25 of his points came after halftime. Considering George was guarding LeBron for nearly the entire game, a post-halftime explosion was even more special.

The level of conditioning and heart it takes to remain productive after tangling with James for a half—let alone a full game—is considerable.

George played 47 minutes on Wednesday, but finished with only four fouls. That's noteworthy considering James has the ball so much and averages seven foul shots per game. Who else could guard LeBron that long and stay out of dire foul trouble?

No one.

You have to love the hybrid NBA comparison stuff. This observation on a retweet from The Washington Post's Michael Lee is pretty accurate:

Win or lose, when this postseason is done, the NBA will have a new superstar. George proved he has the length, strength, athleticism and clutch gene to push LeBron in a way that no other small forward can.

King James is still the ruler of the NBA kingdom, but King George will prove worthy of hoops praise.

 

Follow me, because I watch more basketball than anyone should admit.

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