Last night's Eastern Conference final opener between the Heat and Pacers was a story of two buzzer-beaters, and all the fun of the game lay in the difference between the two. First came Paul George's cockeyed overtime-forcing three-pointer, which was shot from a range that would make even J.R. Smith say, "Nah, dude. I'm cool." Then there was LeBron James's quick and merciless game-winning drive to the basket, a knife-flick of a move that mostly just left everyone wondering where the hell Roy Hibbert was. James's layup was the game-winner, but it was George's deep three that introduced a little bughouse spirit to the series.
Before last night's game, it felt as if the NBA playoffs had stagnated; everyone remaining was a known quantity. Out west, we know what we have in the Grizzlies-Spurs series: a plodding, heavy-punching Memphis team trying to chip away at the frosty competence of San Antonio. It's a slow, desultory march to a foregone conclusion. And out east, it looked as if the Pacers-Heat series was going to be nothing more than the penultimate step toward Miami's inevitable coronation. But then this happened:
Watch that play again, and think about how it only came to be because Paul George completely bungled the first half of it. After receiving a screen from David West, George finds himself guarded at the top of the key by Udonis Haslem, a mismatch that a more seasoned star would immediately take advantage of. But George hesitates, unwisely picks up his dribble, and flings a panicked, errant pass back toward David West. It's in the ensuing chaos that George is able to make amends with a brilliant shot.
It's a play that stands in stark contrast to James's game-winner, a cold-eyed move by a superstar who knows exactly how to attack the cracks in an opponents' defense. Paul George saw a crack in the defense at the end of the fourth quarter and nearly fell in.
Last night, George was the solution to the chaos he caused. At the end of overtime, he threw a bad inbounds pass with his team down three, somehow came up with the ball after a mad scramble, and then drew a foul on his second hail-mary three of the game. And just like that, after sinking three free throws, George had once again dragged his team back into the game in an impressively haphazard fashion.
It's fun to watch the imperious greatness of LeBron, who simply decided to win last night's game, as if he were a guy ordering takeout off a menu. It's just as much fun to watch someone like Paul George, riding the line between his talent and his sloppiness, pulling success out of the wreckage of his own busted plays. The Pacers are going down, but at least we'll have George around to make a glorious mess of things.