Paul George posted photos on social media of him taking bites of his gold medal from the Rio Olympics, a clichéd image that represented closure for an uncommon chapter of his life. Finishing the task for Team USA meant the end of reliving his darkest day, of putting behind the reconstruction of his body and the restoration of his place among the game’s elite.
Now, George is focused on returning the Indiana Pacers to relevance and reclaiming what he felt should’ve been his before his career was so rudely interrupted.
For so long, LeBron James has been the insurmountable obstacle for so many players in the Eastern Conference, whether he’s in Miami or Cleveland. But the last man standing from Indiana’s past two conference finalists, George believes he’s primed and has the team to possibly take down the self-proclaimed King and the reigning NBA champions.
“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury. “Really, what I’m looking at is it coming down to me getting us past the conference finals. … I’m confident in myself. I’m confident in what I can do.”
George’s playoff duels with James established him as a star on the rise but never a rival, especially because he never won. Overcoming the adversity of the past two years, however, has given George a better sense of what he’s achieved and more belief that he belongs on a similar stage. “I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.” [/restrict]