If old Paul George returns, the sky’s the limit for the Pacers

Folks don’t remember it much, because folks tend to forget quickly in this microwave world, but before Paul George snapped his leg in a Team USA exhibition, he was arguably one of the top five players in the NBA.

The combination George had — length, athleticism, defense, and just a tinge of overconfidence — made him elite after being a mostly “who’s he?” pick to generic fans when he came to the Pacers as a late-lottery pick from Fresno State.

Since being granted the franchise player contract he clearly earned, George has come under the scrutiny that accompanies putting the franchise on your back. Money will do that. George was a semi-confident shell of himself in a handful of games last season as the Pacers missed the playoffs, and too often this season, he seemingly has not been his old, aggressive self.

To compound that, it seems that every few games, Pacers fans have to hold their breath because he’s gone down for an undetermined amount of time; even seeing him down is scary. George has, at times, been passive and relied on his jump shot. It’s one he’s honed and improved, but it’s a much sketchier night-in, night-out proposition to make those shots and rely on them.

What now, however, after Saturday’s 2016 playoff opener?

Following Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors — a 10-point Indiana win — one thing is clear: Paul George is getting all the way back, and if he is, look the hell out.

George hung 27 second-half points on the Raps, mostly via jumpers. There’s a tendency to say he got lucky and it can’t keep up at that pace, but you have to remember: This is an elite, elite player who has been recovering from a brutal lower-body injury.

The Raptors don’t have anyone that can guard pre-injury Paul George. While he was expected to get back to this point, it’s a bit remarkable he’s done it so quickly, in all honesty. There’s truth in the fact that George hasn’t been as overly aggressive as his old self, but there’s a genuine mental block that lasts a long time when you get hurt, let alone to the extent he did.

Toronto did what an opponent should do to a superstar player. The Raptors thumped him off screens. They made him guard the ball. He had no opportunity to take plays off. Every time down the floor, it felt, someone was elbowing him, getting a chest into him, and just being generally ornery with him.

No matter. Pacers win.

Toronto, or most teams, aren’t capable of beating the Pacers with Old Paul George. If Old Paul George becomes current Paul George, a bit ahead of schedule, look out. The Pacers could go much farther than Toronto.