Perfect sermon put Paul George at ease before he impressed in return

Paul George was relaxed pregame despite every eye and camera in the stands focused on him.

Paul George had numerous dreams about this moment, this night, this celebration. A celebration of a return after he sustained a horrific chance-injury and has had to fight hard every day to move closer to returning to his elite status, all while watching his guys, the team, go on the roller coster of a season.

Finally this week, in agreement with the front office and medical staff, they decided a return this season would happen. It was understood that time was running out and it was a top priority of George’s to get some game action behind him before the offseason.

Although they considered a return on Friday for their home game against Charlotte, ultimately they settled on Sunday. “This was the right time,” George said undoubtedly postgame.

George, 24, was relaxed pregame. He sat in his locker and had a quiet conversation with neighbors Roy Hibbert and Donald Sloan. He grabbed his Kobe X shoes and straightened them on the floor in front of his locker on the left side of the room. About an hour before the game, he headed to a makeshift room for his usual massage from Fadi Kazma.

George’s locker ready for his season debut.

George, though, was at peace while driving to Bankers Life Fieldhouse alone. He was coming from church and had just heard the perfect message with his entire family alongside.

“Really the whole message of the church service was about having bruises and having scars and God using you through that,” he recalled. “It was perfect. It was setup perfectly to come into tonight and I felt relaxed because of that message that I got today. I was confident and I was very comfortable coming into the building.”

Playing in his first NBA game since May 30th of last year, George, who also broke out his No. 13 jersey for the first time, scored his number in 14:34 of work. He also tallied two rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three turnovers.

“Good first game for him,” said coach Frank Vogel. “Good job getting his feet wet. We’ve been seeing him playing for five weeks so what we saw out there isn’t any different than what we’ve been seeing.”

With fans holding “Welcome Back, PG” signs and grinning ear-to-ear finally seeing the team’s star in uniform, George checked in at the 5:34 mark of the first quarter. (Click here to see the moment and the standing ovation.)

119 seconds later, George threw up his first shot, an off-balanced jumper from 14-feet out — and it went in. Quite the confidence boost.

Throughout the game, George did not show much hesitation, willing to shoot at will and drive it to the hole, one time picking up an offensive foul. With under a minute to play in the first, George stole the ball and had a clear path to the rim but he botched the layup.

“I looked back and seen that (Heat forward Luol Deng) let up and by that time, I was just going too fast for my own self — which is why I’m happy I chose to come back and get some games under my feet,” he said with a smile. “So I could eliminate those moments going forward.

“It was an embarrassing moment but I’m happy to be embarrassed at this time.”

George had many proud moments, though. The fact that he had worked his way back to game action just 247 days since surgery is remarkable. Not unexpected, at least to him, but it was absolutely impressive and made for a truly special evening for all.

[Watch as Paul George takes the floor for warmups and then is introduced for the first time]

Not surprisingly, his shot remains sharp. George, a 42 percent shooter last season, made 5-of-12 shots, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.

“I hurt my leg, not my arm,” he joked afterwards.

Paul George recognized that time was running out and he was determined — and then happy — to return before season’s end.

George was even more comfortable in the second half after riding high on adrenaline. He said he experienced some soreness, but made clear that he was not experiencing any pain. The true test may come the following day, or after a few games.

But his return on Sunday night, where the Pacers crushed the Miami Heat 112-89 to take over the ninth slot in the conference standings, what a very good start.

“Success personally was being able to move, being able to play confidently and not overcompensating with my left leg,” George said. “I felt confident planting, cutting, moving, jumping — doing everything normal on my right leg.”

Vogel added: “He had a little bit of rust. I didn’t think there was a lot of lack of trust in his leg. His explosiveness isn’t going to fully return probably until next year, but obviously you can see he’s able to play.”

The two shared a special moment as George checked out with 7:46 left in the game and an 18-point advantage.

“Damn, I missed you,” Vogel told his star.

The feel of the locker room prior to the game was light-hearted. Guys were jokingly asking, “Who’s the new guy?” ahead of George’s first game of the season and in a new uniform, No. 13.

“I didn’t think they expected him to come out and be as comfortable as he was tonight,” C.J. Miles said. “He wasn’t anty. And I think that came from the way that they approached it, allowing him to build up so much confidence where now it was like letting a dog of the cage.”

His teammates were genuinely thrilled for him, and had the most fun celebrating after his made 3s while soaking in the electric atmosphere. (It was the 12th sellout of the season.)

“It was everything that I expected,” George said, thoughtfully reflecting on his night. “It was one of the reasons I enjoyed signing back and being part of this organization in the future. These fans welcoming me back into the game is probably the greatest moment that I’ve had. It was so hard not to get caught up in the moment.”

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