Paul George introduces himself to much of America with breakout game… that got overshadowed

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America, meet Paul George.

He’s the Pacer that hit the insane, dramatic three pointer that sent Game 1 against the Heat into overtime. He’s the guy that drew the superstar call on Dwyane Wade, then with ice water in his veins hit three free throws to give Indiana the lead with 2.2 seconds left in overtime. He’s the guy assigned the thankless task of guarding LeBron James and did a pretty good job — between the start of the second quarter and the end of regulation George held him to 6-of-15 shooting (which is pretty dang good against the two-time MVP). He’s the guy who led Indiana with 27 points, plus had 5 assists and got to the free throw line 11 times.

This was his national coming out party — he’s a big-time NBA star, not just a guy basketball people admire…

Except that his not how this game will be remembered.

What will be talked about is LeBron’s layup — a play where George overplayed LeBron and in doing so gave him a direct path to the rim. What’s going to be talked about is Miami escaping with a win in Game 1.

And George will be an afterthought. Which is too bad, because he was brilliant — and the Pacers wouldn’t have been anywhere near a position to win without him. Still, George knows how this will be remembered.

“I gotta understand, you make LeBron shoot a jumper at that point,” George said after the game of the final play.

“I grabbed him after the game and quickly told him to forget about the last play,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s a third year player, and he’s playing the best player in the world, someone that is arguably going to go down as one of the best players in the history of the game, and he’s just playing him toe-to-toe, playing his tail off, competing very hard. I’m very proud of his whole effort.”

George is not a guy that casual basketball fans knew — a lot of those fans can’t name any Pacers players — but basketball people have been admiring him all season. George was an up-and-coming player who got thrust into a much larger role this year with Danny Granger being out — George went from being the second option to the guy everybody counted on for points.

And he responded — he took on much more of the Pacers offense (23.7 percent usage rate) and earned 17.4 points a game, not to mention the 7.6 rebounds, 4 assists and being a key part of the NBA’s best defense. All that earned him the NBA’s Most Improved Player award this year.

That didn’t mean he was known. He’s a guy with two first names who played his college ball in Fresno and now toils in Indiana — not many people have seen him play, or really watched him if they have.

And their first half impression of him was not going to be great — he shot 1-of-4 with three turnovers. He struggled against LeBron in the first quarter but in the second played some good defense.

But in the second half and overtime he carried the Pacers — 25 points, he got to the line 11 times, and hit 3-of-4 from three. On defense he didn’t stop LeBron but he made the Heat star really work for his points. He made LeBron far less efficient.

George kept the Pacers right in this game. People noticed.

Next people knew his name after, with less than a second left in regulation, he hit a 29-foot three that sent the game into overtime.

Next people were screaming his name — with time running out in overtime and the Pacers down two the play in a scramble after Norris Cole knocked the ball free. But George got it, took a three again and drew the foul from Dwyane Wade. We’ll be generous and say it was a borderline call — certainly not a call you expect to see made at the end of games — but George got it. It was a superstar call and the refs gave it to him. Then he coolly sank all three free throws and had the Pacers up one with 2.2 seconds left.

But George made some mistakes on the night. Like the lime-green paisley shirt he wore to the press conference. Or the pass he threw late in the game to Sam Young on the bench (apparently mistaking him for a guy in the game).

Or when he overplayed LeBron’s entry pass with two seconds left in overtime and gave him a path to the basket and the game winner.

Like it was for the Pacers, for George this was a learning experience. A painful one.

But in three resilient NBA years he has shown he learns from his mistakes. And that could be trouble for the Heat because George almost lifted the Pacers to a Game 1 win.

Report: Gordon Hayward’s earliest possible return is March

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Gordon Hayward‘s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said the Celtics wing was unlikely to return this season following surgery for a broken leg and dislocated ankle.

We’re obviously dealing with unknowns and probabilities, but there’s another spin to the timeline.

Mike Lynch of WCVB:

It’d be great for Hayward and the Celtics if he can return in March. That’d give him time to acclimate before the playoffs, which Boston could still make.

However, this report casts doubt whether the Celtics will receive a disabled-player exception for Hayward. The NBA grants the exception – worth $8,406,000 in this case – if a league-appointed physician rules Hayward is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15.

When he said Hayward would likely miss the season, did Bartelstein mean the regular season, Boston’s season or the entire postseason? Those could be quite different dates. How likely is a player with at least a chance of returning in March to remain out through June 15?

The NBA is fairly lenient on granting disabled-player exceptions. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Celtics got one.

But I also wouldn’t be surprised if they’re denied – which, in a way, would signal good news for them and Hayward.

Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo spoils Boston home opener

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Every night in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, especially on this, the real opening night of the NBA with 22 teams in action. Every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Tonight, that includes a few historic numbers… good and bad.

1) Brad Stevens, Celtics have no answer on how to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo either. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re getting mentioned in the record books with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you’re doing something very right. Monday night, the Greek Freak was rolling to the rim and finishing alley-oops over defenders, hitting floaters and leaners in the lane, and generally using his length to get any shot he wanted against the Celtics on his way to a 37-point, 13 rebound night in Boston. The only other Buck to have an opening night of at least 35 and 10? Yup, one Mr. Abdul-Jabbar.

Put a smaller defender on Antetokounmpo and he shoots right over them. Put a bigger defender on him and he goes around them — or just over them too. Brad Stevens tried a lot of things on defense, and while Al Horford had a little first-half success slowing him nobody did all game as he shot 59.1 percent on his way to dropping 37.

Notice all those shots are close to the rim. Antetokounmpo was a ridiculous 10-of-12 at the rim and 12-of-18 in the paint overall, but just 1-of-4 outside the key. It’s easy to say “make him a jump shooter” but good luck finding anyone who can stay in front of him, or that he can’t just finish over. The man was dunking over Aron Baynes, how do you get anyone much bigger in front of him?

Boston was up four points entering the fourth quarter when the second night of a back-to-back seemed to hit them, they scored just 20 points on 8-of-25 shooting in the final frame, 4-of-21 outside the restricted area. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo went off for 16 in the fourth as he ramped up his aggressiveness and Brad Stevens and the Celtics had no answer. Marcus Smart was fiery and got into it with Matthew Dellavedova, that may have exemplified Boston’s spirit, but Celtics looked physically and emotionally worn down by the end. Hard to blame them.

Rough start to the season for Boston, who lost Gordon Hayward just minutes into the opener (he’s out for the season), they fell to the Celtics Tuesday night and now are off to an 0-2 start. They will bounce back, but just now how the team with all these new players thought things would start.

2) Jeremy Lin injures knee and there is “tremendous” concern it is serious. Midway through the fourth quarter against the Pacers, Jeremy Lin drove the lane and finished a layup at the rim that looked ordinary — except when he landed he went to the ground grabbing his knee and did not get back up.

This isn’t good. Neither were the reports during and after the play.

Brooklyn was counting on Lin to help stabilize the point guard position and the backcourt with D'Angelo Russell (who had 30 on the night in a losing effort). If Lin is done for all or most of the season, it’s a huge setback for a team that, while bad, was expected to be a little better than in previous seasons. Remember, the Cavaliers have Brooklyn’s first-round pick this season unprotected (part of the Kyrie Irving trade from Boston).

• While we’re on the injury front, Boston’s Gordon Hayward underwent surgery on his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia on Wednesday, and according to his agent he is “unlikely” to return this season. Hayward did send a video message to Celtics fans thanking them. Boston will try to move on, but it’s been a difficult and emotional start to the season for the Celtics.

3) Suns’ season opening performance wasn’t just bad, it was the worst ever. The record for worst opening night loss in NBA history belonged to the 1987 Los Angeles Clippers coached by Gene Shue, who were blown out by Denver by 46 points.

No more. That record now belongs to the Phoenix Suns, who fell at home to the Portland Trail Blazers 124-76 — a 48 point loss. The Suns shot 31.5 percent as a team — Devin Booker was 6-of-17 and didn’t hit a three, Eric Bledsoe was sloppy and reckless all night and finished 5-of-18 with five turnovers and three assists, while Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss combined to go 1-of-10 off the bench. The Phoenix offense was about as in synch as the left shark, and many possessions ended with a terrible shot being jacked up because, well, somebody had to shoot it.

I’d like to say this was a good omen for the Trail Blazers’ defense, but really it’s impossible to judge how good it was against this offense. It was still a win the Blazers will gladly take, Damian Lillard had 24 points while Pat Connaughton came off the bench for 22.

PBT Extra: Bobby Portis punch adds to challenges for Bulls this season

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Nikola Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks due to his concussion and fractured jaw.

Bobby Portis has been suspended for the first eight games of the season for causing those injuries to Mirotic with a punch at practice.

What does this mean for a Bulls locker room that was already going to have to deal with the weight of losing a lot of games.  I get into all these questions in this latest PBT Extra.

It’s going to be a long season in Chicago.

Gordon Hayward’s agent says return this season unlikely

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Wednesday night in Boston Gordon Hayward underwent surgery to repair his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia suffered just five minutes into the season-opening game, a gruesome injury that put a pall over the rest of the night.

There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.

Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.

Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.

The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.