BOSTON — Not so long ago, Paul George would have walked away from a game like this smiling from ear to ear.
George scored 25 points, hauled in eight rebounds and swiped three steals, as well as hit the game-turning 3-pointer in the fourth quarter of the Indiana Pacers’ 102-97 win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday. Owing to his development into a superstar, however, he expected more.
“I missed too many easy points,” he said, matter-of-factly.
George didn’t miss the ones that counted, as his three with 1:16 left to extend Indiana’s lead to five points attested. On paper, the Celtics (20-40) could have won. They led by two with less than six minutes to go. At some point, though, the Pacers (45-13) were bound to do what good teams do. George was bound to do what great players do.
“That’s why he is who he is,” Celtics coach Stevens said. “You give a guy like that his chance and you know it’s not going to end well.”
The Pacers played their normal, suffocating defense, holding Boston to 42.7 percent shooting overall and 7-for-21 beyond the arc. But the Celtics managed to make things interesting by protecting the ball (they committed eight turnovers) and crashing the glass. They won the rebounding battle 41-38, including 12 offensive boards.
Jeff Green led all scorers with 27 points and Kris Humphries put Boston in position to win with a stellar third quarter, which the Celtics closed on a 22-10 run to enter the fourth with a two-point lead. Rajon Rondo posted his second straight solid performance with 12 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Against any other team, Rondo might have had three or four more dimes.
“The 11 assists could have been 13 or 14,” Stevens said. “The difference between our shots (Saturday) and our shots (Wednesday against Atlanta) weren’t that much with regard to where you’re shooting from, who’s shooting it, it’s the level of contest you’re facing because of their length, their aggressiveness and their commitment to guarding as a unit.”
“Even when you’re open,” he added, “you feel like someone is around you.”
With Rondo running the show, Humphries was downright dominant in the third quarter. He put up 11 points and four rebounds of his 18-point, 10-rebound total in the frame, benefiting from a Rondo assist for a dunk and returning the favor on a Rondo three midway through the quarter.
Some people still can’t get over the sight of Humphries and Rondo, who were at each other’s throats as opponents in a game last year between the Nets and Celtics, playing side by side. So far, the relationship hasn’t come to fisticuffs in Boston’s locker room.
“It’s been good,” Humphries said. “We’re trying to figure out a time to get in the boxing ring or something to see who’s actually tougher.”