Thanks to a brilliant performance in a 105-78 quarterfinal win against Argentina, Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George has made his case to start in the last two and most important games of Team USA’s Olympic campaign.
Coming off the bench behind Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson and logging nearly identical minutes, PG-13 filled up the stat sheet with 17 points on 8-for-14 shooting and led the team with eight rebounds (including four offensive).
Most importantly; George’s defense was a catalyst for the Americans, none more important than two consecutive steals in the last minutes of the first quarter, one leading to a Kevin Durant corner three and the other to his own breakaway dunk to cut the Argentinian lead to three.
He finished the game with three steals, three blocks and no turnovers while Thompson tallied only four points in 2-for-8 shooting and a dismal 0-for-6 from deep.
While there’s plenty of scoring firepower in the starting lineup, coach Mike Krzyzewski wants a balance on the floor and George can be that lengthy, instinctual perimeter defender to lock players down and get in the way of passing lanes. His ability to lead and score in the fast break, get to the basket and his range give him a well-rounded offensive arsenal to keep defenders on their toes.
“Paul played his best game for us so far,” said Krzyzewski in the post-game press conference. “He played a great game, not (just) a good game because it was in both ends. He was all over the place. I think he had three steals, a few blocks, deflections, scored and Jimmy (Butler) did the same thing.”
Thompson’s game tends to fall apart when his shot is not falling, he runs out of creative ways to look for his shot and tends to rush his chances, his commitment on defense vanishes if he doesn’t see the ball through the basket.
On paper, as much as he could be a key cog to this team, in reality his shooting struggles are the least of Team USA’s problems at the moment. The problem lies on his ability (or lack there of) to be a functional team player in both ends regardless of his shooting woes.
While Durant took most of the headlines and deservedly so after pouring in 27 points on 9-for-13 shooting (7-for-9 from three); the U.S. will need different players to step up going into a very physical semifinal match-up with Spain.
George’s stat-stuffer comes at a great time where Krzyzewski has to make a big decision for the upcoming game. The U.S. has started slow in each of its last four games and against a deep veteran team like Spain, it could prove costly.
The Pacers forward has played with a chip on his shoulder, especially after the horrific leg injury that saw him sit out most of the 2014-2015 NBA season. “We knew we had to raise our level,” said George. “How we were playing wasn’t good enough. I thought we did a great job defensively of getting stops, forcing turnovers, getting out on the fast break. That’s where our game has been lost, the fast break game.”