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.

More from SB Nation:

LeBron disagrees with Jordan's scouting report

The strangest NBA award picks

The Nets, a coaching search and loads of cash

3 reasons Dwight Howard should sign with Golden State

Prada: Would Hibbert have stopped LeBron?

NBA mock draft consensus: Noel to Cavs | SB Nation's Big Board

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.