Paul George reflects on his time in Indiana, says it’s time for all to move on

The game was over but there was a crowd of people in the tunnel. They weren’t waiting for an autograph or to slap hands with a player.

A pack of more than a dozen media members had gathered outside the Oklahoma City Thunder’s locker room less than five minutes since the conclusion of the game, a 100-95 win by the Thunder to snap the Pacers’ four-game win streak. Because of the crowd Thunder public relations made the right call to later have George talk at the media to accommodate the unusually high demand.

I’m glad the circus is over with.

It could have been said by any number of people, but it was Paul George on the dais about an hour after the Thunder’s win to complete the season sweep on the Pacers. Less than one-third of the way through the 82-game regular season and these two teams won’t play each other against this season.

That’s a relief for all. The players in the Pacers’ locker room were tired of addressing it, reiterating that it’s just one game and “just another game.”

The Pacers — led by 11 points, 10 rebounds, and a season-high seven steals from Thad Young — perhaps were overhyped in the rowdy environment for the nationally televised audience to see on ESPN.

It was a charged atmosphere at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the first sellout (17,923) of the year in fact. And fans made clear how they felt to George during pregame introductions (boo!), at the free throw line (boo!), and every time he touched the ball (boooooo!!!).

George’s offense was underwhelming (12 points on 3-of-14 shooting) but neither team shot it well and there were plenty of misses all around. What was impressive, though, was his defense on Victor Oladipo (19 points).

Oladipo — “the face of Indiana,” George said — was held to 1 for 7 with two turnovers when George defended, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It was easily the best defense Oladipo, who was coming off a career-high 47 points, had faced all season.

“That was different,” Oladipo said at his locker. “Coming off pick-and-rolls, traps, they were making sure I had to give the ball up, which comes with the territory I guess. … People game plan for me so I have to be ready for anything.”

George didn’t chalk up his poor shooting to the crowd, although he obviously heard it, felt it.

“I’ve played over 300-and-some games here. I was comfortable,” he said. “It had nothing to do with boos, I just missed shots.”

With 15.2 seconds left and trailing by three, the Pacers botched a sideline out of bounds entry pass and George got the steal. Then, hit two more at the foul line, where the Pacers were outscored by 11 points and had just six opportunities.

“Vic is their guy here, right? Right? Don’t let him get the ball. Simple. Ball game,” George said and then hit the table with his right fist before walking 50 yards down an inner hallway down to the Pacers locker room, where he stopped by for about three minutes.

Steven Adams controlled the paint, with 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook recorded his ninth triple-double of the season: 10 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists.

This wasn’t an easy 12 hours for George. It began in the morning, after shootaround around noon. He spoke for five minutes before boarding the bus back to the team hotel. During the day, he visited with those closest to him and were there from the beginning, he said. That was all he needed.

Paul George meets with reporters — easily the most to cover a home game this eason.

When he entered the bowl of the arena, how could anyone be comfortable in that environment. He’s a guy that feeds of the positive energy and wants to be liked. No, this had to be a feeling he hasn’t felt since perhaps grade school.

“I played my hardest every night. I thought I took what the city was about, and that’s being blue collar,” George said in response to those question about his outward drive and emotion. “That’s how I approached the game. I played every side of the ball.”

George has seen tweets, read the quotes, and is aware of their record. 16-12 after Wednesday, compared to the Thunder at 13-14.

“They’re playing well,” he said before the game, “a young team,. I think one of the best things is their ability to push it having so many ball handlers. They’re good. I can see the improvement in Myles [Turner], where he’s taken his game. He’s a lot more poised. Vic has been phenomenal here.”

All parties involved are fortunate for this to be over, at least for this season. PG will be a free agent at the end of the year and is expected to head out west, home to Los Angeles. He says he’s gotten the closure he needed and is happy to see Indiana succeeding. “That was closure for me,” he said before the game.

Pacers fans, upset as they may be with how things were handled over the final two weeks in June, should appreciate his willingness to share with Indiana officials that he would be gone at season’s end.

Pacers President Kevin Pritchard ultimately landed two rising stars, Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who are both averaging career highs. Oladipo (24.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists) is playing at an All-Star level and is the early favorite for the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award, which seems to be in rotation to Indy (Jalen Rose, Jermaine O’Neal, Danny Granger, Paul George).

Time to turn the page, George said while briefly reflecting on his seven season in Indy and acknowledging that Oladipo, under contract through the 2019-20 season, is the future.

“Vic is the face of Indiana. Vic is the future of Indiana. Indiana is on this Vic wave. He’s having a great year. He’s blessed, he’s talented, he’s what you want in a guy for a franchise. Let’s put all this to rest.

“For what it is, I had an amazing seven years here. I was blessed to play in front of a great Indiana fan base, which, as you saw tonight, they showed up and showed out. I’m grateful. I’m grateful to have played in this organization. But, ultimately, I didn’t achieve what I wanted to do here and I moved on.

“Both sides have moved on. Let’s all move on.”

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