Indiana Pacers forward Paul George reacts after hitting a three-point shot against the Detroit Pistons in Indianapolis. Photo: AP
Perhaps the calming solitude of one of his favorite hobbies that righted Paul George.
Maybe that hour he spent fishing off his dock on Geist Reservoir on Tuesday afternoon provided a sorely needed separation from his current struggle, one that's lingered within his game and his mind for the better part of a month.
He didn't catch anything, but that was never really the point. It was a day away from the game and the grind. It was quiet. He was alone.
Brief as it may have been, a rare day off in the middle of the NBA gauntlet can be just what a player needs who is slogging through the worst stretch of his season. And furthermore, it can be especially welcoming for a player like George, one forced to learn over recent months how difficult it is to graduate from NBA star to NBA superstar.
A day later, he talked of his team rediscovering the fun in basketball again. Until Wednesday night's 101-94 victory against the Detroit Pistons -- a game in which George looked like himself again, scoring 27 points and grabbing 13 rebounds -- fun was not an adjective closely associated with the Pacers in recent weeks.
They were amid the season's worst slump, and George's erratic and inconsistent offensive game mirrored that of his team's.
"Teams were figuring out how to slow me down," he said after Thursday's practice. "I'm just trying to learn you can't beat a whole team, and that's what I was going through."
George and the Pacers (52-23) will visit the Toronto Raptors (43-32) in a battle of squads currently seeded second and third in the Eastern Conference, Indiana superstar -- much like his team -- hoping to build off a brief bit of momentum captured in Wednesday's win.
"People think the sky was falling on this team," George said. "We were No. 1 (in the East) for almost the whole season. We lost a couple of games, went through a bad week, a bad month, but our record is still pretty sound."
Indeed it is, but George's production has dipped considerably from the first chunk of the season, a time when wins were piling up and his name was regularly tossed in the MVP discussion.
Then the spotlight came, and so did stiffer defenses, resolute to slow the Pacers' dynamic swingman who had blossomed in four short years into one of the league's best two-way talents.
Through the first 20 games of the season, George was shooting a scorching 47 percent from the floor and averaging 24.8 points a night. Indiana was winning, too, at a tremendous clip. The Pacers lost just twice over that stretch.
His numbers have gradually declined since, and have been a very un-George like over the 15 games prior to Wednesday night: His shooting was down to 36.4 percent, his average to 17.5. Indiana lost six of eight to close the month of March. Any MVP talk ceased.
It's part of the process, George has repeated in recent weeks, the steady toil all the greats go through. Just as he learned to become an elite player in this league, he would have to learn how to handle it.
It has not been easy.
"I was trying to figure out ways to be effective the wrong way," George said. "Now, I got to figure out a way to get my guys going. You set a standard for yourself, you expect to play well, and you're not playing well, (so) you're always going to be frustrated."
He wore the frustration often on his face, or in his arms as they rose in the air after a foul call he sought never came. It grew especially evident in a three-game losing streak to end the month of March. George turned the ball over as many times (16) as he found the bottom of the net.
He was trying to do too much.
Slow down, his coaches told him. Keep working, his teammates encouraged.
"There's a great deal involved with the rise that he's experienced, and I definitely think that it's been a little bit of a challenge and he's been more of a focal point," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "He's continuing to grow, he's reading defenses, he's sharing the basketball and he's trying to take advantage."
Wednesday, a day after his afternoon spent fishing, George's Pacers held off Detroit, the victory punctuated by a near-halfcourt 3-pointer their All-Star swingman sank after mistakenly thinking the shot clock was winding down.
As his teammates jogged back on defense, George wore a wide smile across his face. For him, it was an expression offered too rarely in recent weeks.
For a night, basketball was fun again.
The Indianapolis Star