Pacers season ends in Toronto, Paul George says ‘I learned what I was made of’

Paul George averaged 27.3 points per game in the postseason, second to only Kyrie Irving (27.5). [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Paul George averaged 27.3 points per game in the postseason, second to only Kyrie Irving (27.5). [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

The Indiana Pacers season came to a close Sunday night on the other side of the border, up in Toronto. It started with turnovers, a problem all season long. Then they got behind, but valiantly fought to get back. And then at least one, maybe two, blown calls came up big.

Yeah, we’ve seen that plenty of times this year, too. Chicago, anyone?

DeMar DeRozan, who finished with a game-high 30 points, then sank two free throws and the game was over.

The difference, however, was in the 50-50 balls … like on the glass. The Raptors scored 17 points from 18 second-chance opportunities on the offensive boards. The Pacers pulled down five and managed three points.

Feeling the pressure and the weight of Toronto sports fans on their backs, the Raptors prevailed 89-84 for their first postseason series win in 15 years. That’s why the crowd rejoiced and celebrated like an NBA Finals victory. This was wasn’t the norm.

[At the Buzzer: R1 G7 — Raptors 89, Pacers 84]

For the Pacers, star Paul George went down fighting until the very end. He played all but two minutes in this 48-minute game, the most minutes he’s had to play all season — by far. Finishing with 26 points and 12 rebounds, for his third double-double of the series, George gave everything he had.

“I play this game the only way I know how to play — play hard and leave everything on the floor,” George said postgame. “The last thing I want to say is I didn’t give it enough. I played with nothing but heart. Fortunately, it wasn’t enough in this series, but it’s a lot to take away from it. It was the first year as being the prime leader and I can only build off that.”

“This young man reminds me of trying to prepare for Kobe Bryant back in the Laker days,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “I was back in Seattle. Even that last shot (tonight), I thought that it was going in. He was always open. We had to tag team him with Norman (Powell) and also with DC (DeMarre Carroll) in those situations.

“I think he’s back. I’m happy for him. Now that we’re finished with him, I’m happy for him because he’s a super young man. He represents everything basketball should be about and he’s back to his All-Pro All-Star form.

George turns 26 on Monday. He’s talked about growth a lot over his six-year career, but this year he may have made his largest gain. Gone were two pillars of the franchise in David West and Roy Hibbert, and seven new faces were added to the mix. Oh, and it was his first full season back from the compound fracture in his leg. A serious, concerning injury.

Myles Turner started 34 games, including four in the postseason, in his rookie year. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Myles Turner started 34 games, including four in the postseason, in his rookie year. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

He played in every single game he was called upon — he was rested in Game No. 82 — and delivered all season. He was named to his third All-Star game and scored 41 points, one shy of the game’s record. He helped bring along young rookie Myles Turner, and stepped aside when veteran addition Monta Ellis had something to say.

They reached the playoffs and nearly upset second-seeded Toronto.

“Very pleased,” he said of his individual growth. “I was ready for this moment. I was ready to step up. I was ready to do whatever it took to win. To give us the best chance, I knew I was going to have to be at my best. There’s still a lot to take away from it.

“I think one thing I can really take away is the game just really slowed down and I had a better understanding of my game and how I can attack different defenders and how I can free myself, regardless of how they were going to guard me. I learned a lot. I learned what I was made of.”

[Quotable: Pacers and Raptors after Game 7]

All regular viewers could see how the Pacers’ star approached the game and how so many times he made it look easy. He slowed down, got in a grove, and didn’t force the issue. It was fascinating to watch. George averaged a team-best 23.1 points per game in the regular season, good for 10th in the league.

He took his game to another level — he had to — in the playoffs. George averaged 27.3 points — second only to Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (27.5ppg) in the first round — and led the Pacers in scoring in every game but Game 4. He also scored 10 points or more in quarter 10 times, more than anyone else in the first round, per ESPN Stats & Info.

George was magnificent at the foul line, shooting 95 percent. He made 61-of-64 attempts, including 32 consecutive tries to end the series.

“This is a remarkable triumph and a remarkable return, to get back on the court this season and to play the way he did in the playoffs was just remarkable,” said coach Frank Vogel. “In terms of taking pressure off him, we have a complete team and our guys played well and he played well. We have to continue to grow, continue to build.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys and how far we’ve come this year. We remade our franchise this year, completely recreated an identity, worked through several shifts this season and played our best basketball down the stretch when it mattered, played a great series and hung in there and fought to the end.”

The Pacers started the season trying to play small ball, with C.J. Miles at power forward since George was reluctant to do so. They had an excellent month, going 11-2, but as their success slowed and Miles got beat down, the team reverted to its smashmouth identity.

After missing 21 games due to a bone chip fracture in his thumb, rookie Myles Turner, then just 19, was inserted into the lineup. He had a tremendous rookie season, better than even team officials expected, and gained valuable postseason experience in Year 1.

“There’s a lot of reasons to be excited and hopeful about our future because of that kid,” Vogel said.

The Pacers, new personnel, lineups and all, finished with the third-best defensive rating in the league. That’s the metric that Vogel values most. But the franchise needs a more productive and efficient offense (102.2ppg, 17th in the league) and they need to bring in a physical big man. That much was true in this first-round series.

When asked about what the Pacers need to add, George said “It’s all about how determined and how focused Myles (Turner) is to get better. He’s got to add some strength. I think one of the best things about playing the Raptors is game after game, going against two physical big men and him learning how to play physical and knowing the expectation for a big man. But, I don’t know.

“Hopefully myself, Monta (Ellis) can do a great job in recruiting some free agents, maybe George (Hill) as well in getting a big name here to help us out.”

The Pacers should have about $30-plus million to spend in free agency. But every team around the league can be big spenders with the influx of money due to a new television contract.

Ian Mahinmi, Jordan Hill, Solomon Hill, and Ty Lawson will be free agents.

This 2015-16 season, where the Pacers went 45-37 and then forced a Game 7, will be remembered for George’s return and ascent, Turner’s emergence, and a team that had issue closing games. There were about a dozen games where they led with less than two minutes remaining and failed to hang on. Do so in a handful of games and they’re a 50-win team — well above all preseason expectations.

Most didn’t even give the Pacers a chance in this series. And they showed how they were relentless fighters all along. It just wasn’t enough. Not this year.

One Response to Pacers season ends in Toronto, Paul George says ‘I learned what I was made of’
  1. […] backup, and reshuffle the perimeter personnel to add shooting or defense. Maybe Paul George’s willingness to recruit could […]

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