Frustration swelled within Paul George late in the third quarter of Saturday’s game against the Chicago Bulls.
George, for a moment, dribbled past Chicago’s Jimmy Butler toward the basket. But after two more dribbles, George collided with Butler. Referee Nick Buchert called George for an offensive foul, his first of the game. Few people inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse agreed, including many fans, coach Frank Vogel and especially George.
Within seconds, George shouted at Buchert and received a technical foul. A few possessions later, George once again yelled at the referees. At that moment, George had a choice:either lose his composure or harness his anger.
Paul George vs Bulls – 33 Pts, 8 Rebs.
What the Indiana Pacers needed from George – both Saturday and for the reminder of the season – was for him to choose the latter. Fortunately for the Pacers, George passed his first significant emotional test. He shut his mouth, put his head down and turned his angst into a rage that fueled the Pacers to yet another impressive win, this one a 104-92 victory over the Bulls in front of a sellout crowd.
What George did was the correct response for a superstar. Don’t cry. Don’t point fingers. Don’t make a disagreement with a referee personal for all to see.
“I know once a call is made, I can’t go and change it,” George said. “I’m going to get angry at times, get frustrated. It’s part of the game. I’m always so locked in, but it’s going to become moments where it’s hard to control it. But I let it go, move on and I think that’s one area where I got better at is not letting plays sit in my head too long.”
George lead all players with 33 points despite Butler holding him to 11-of-24 shooting from the field. He collected eight defensive rebounds and held Butler to just 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
But George also shares the lead for the most technical fouls in the NBA – five in 15 games – with the Clippers’ Blake Griffin. After the game, George said he cannot be a leader who continues to get whistled for technicals. He also explained why he was able to perform better after his latest one.
“If I feel I didn’t get a call, I get more aggressive,” George said. He later added of the referees: “I don’t understand how they are so quick with technicals. I wasn’t going to let the stripes get a hold of this one.”
No two points better illustrated George’s mentality and were harder earned than late in the third quarter when he drove right into Butler’s chest. No foul was called, but George absorbed Butler’s contact and adjusted his shot while falling to the ground for the acrobatic layup.
“I wanted to try to get a call since I had my moment and I put it in their ear,” George said of the referees. “So I tried to attack and be aggressive. I seen we were shooting a lot of jump shots at that point, so I tried to get something to go to the basket.”
George swished his next two shots to start the fourth quarter, which gave the Pacers a 10-point cushion they never relinquished.
Unlike so many nights in the last month, nothing came easy for George on offense. Not with Butler following his every move. Not in this usual physical battle between the Bulls and the Pacers.
Monta Ellis, though, said the Pacers won the game the moment they were able to help George with his anger.
“As teammates, we have to get him under control,” Ellis said. “We did a great job of doing that. He did a great job of responding the way he should have, being more aggressive and making the (Bulls) pay.”
Vogel knew his superstar made the correct decision with his frustration.
“You get mad when that sort of thing happens,” Vogel said of George’s technical foul. “So, what are you going to do about? Are you going to pout about it or are you going to blow a gasket and get thrown out? Or are you going to channel it into aggression on the offensive end. I thought he did that and that’s what we talked about. I was proud he did that.”