NBA Playoffs 2013: Paul George ready for his return to the big stage

Mike Ehrmann

After reviewing his play following the Pacers playoff loss to the Heat last season, Paul George found motivation to take his game to another level.

You have to make plays to earn genuine respect in the NBA. Make those plays in critical moments of high-profile playoff games and that respect turns into star status.

Indiana Pacers forward Paul George is suddenly a star on the big stage, engaged in a duel with LeBron James and earning the respect of the best player on the planet. Late in the third quarter of the Pacers Game 2 win over the Heat, George hesitated and then burst by James before rising and throwing down a one-handed jam over Chris Andersen.

The play passed assertive to the land of vicious. George also drew a foul on Birdman, who apparently splattered all over George Hill's shirt on the play. The fantastic finish at the rim temporarily put the Pacers up five until LeBron closed the quarter with a long three, then gave George a little dap while telling him, "I got you back, young fella."

The ultimate sign of respect for George and his game.

The nod from LeBron illustrates how far George has come in the span of just one year. Last year in the second round of the playoffs, the Heat gave PG no respect when the Pacers were on offense. In fact, they wanted him to have the ball and try to make a play because they knew he wasn't ready.

The painful truth was laid bare before George on the game film, which he wore out over the summer while working to improve his game. He realized his solid defensive play helped the Pacers slow down the Heat, but his horrid offensive play wiped out any good he did at the other end. He noticed the Heat players giving him no respect on the offensive end and vowed to change.

He went to work on his ball handling and shooting, all of which remain works in progress. But his willingness to put in the work has lifted his confidence to be a playmaker on offense and the results continue to astound as he is making big plays at big moments in big games. The results have been impressive with an All-Star appearance and selection to the All-NBA third team.

Bench coach Brian Shaw also helps fuel George's fire, continually challenging him with stories of the relentless work ethic he witnessed from Kobe Bryant. That led George to ramp up his game-day routine early in the season to add 400-500 shots and a lift a few hours before tip time. The routine took a physical toll for a couple of weeks as George started getting cramps late in games. But soon enough, he adapted to the routine and raised his level of fitness to where he can go all day now.

And not just go, but go through and over any opponent while leading his team to a conference finals win and earning the respect of the game's elite along the way.

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