Paul George’s wait is finally over. Well, almost.
The Indiana Pacers superstar took to Instagram early Saturday morning and suggested his long-awaited debut would come tomorrow against the Miami Heat, and his team subsequently confirmed that George would be available to play on Easter Sunday.
Below are pertinent portions of the Pacers’ release on George’s return, followed by the reigning All-NBA Third Team honoree’s announcement on social media.
The Indiana Pacers announced Saturday that All-Star guard Paul George would be available to play Sunday when the Pacers host the Miami Heat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (6:00 p.m.).
“The recovery has been a long process and this is another step in the process,” said George, a two-time NBA All-Star and the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2012-13. “I thank everyone, my family, friends, doctors, our training staff, coaches, the entire Pacers’ family for their support and encouragement. I’m excited, but at the same time I’m aware I’m still in a rehab stage and will continue to work to get back to full strength.”
“We’re happy to have Paul back in uniform, and this is just another step in his rehabilitation from the injury,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird. “He has worked hard to get to this point and still has work to do, but it’s a positive step toward what we hope will be a full recovery at some point. His minutes will be limited in games he plays as we evaluate his progress moving forward.”
It’s been a long and arduous road back to competition for George, who suffered a gruesome fracture of his right tibia and fibula during a nationally televised Team USA scrimmage in early August. Though conventional wisdom immediately following the injury was that the 24 year-old would certainly be sidelined for all of 2014-2015, George never said as much despite Indiana hinting at that lengthy absence. In fact, he said a return this season was “very possible” less than two months after the injury.
Once it became apparent that George’s recovery timeline needed to be accelerated, news broke that he and the Pacers had targeted March for his season debut. Last month came and went without the two-time All-Star in uniform, though, and George publicly questioned if his sudden addition might be a difficult adjustment for Frank Vogel’s team.
But Indiana was in the midst of a six-game winning streak when George made those comments, and Bird has maintained throughout the process that his star would take the floor when he was physically ready to do so. That time is now, obviously, though the Pacers’ standing in the heated race for one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference playoff surely has something do with it, too.
Indiana enters Saturday 1.5 games behind Miami for eighth-place and 2.5 games back of the Brooklyn Nets for seventh, with the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets also fighting tooth and nail to make the postseason. If nothing else, George’s return – for a home game on a national holiday, no less – should give the Pacers some extra juice for Sunday’s meeting with the Heat and their remaining five regular season outings.
If the newly-minted “PG-13” is as good as Roy Hibbert expects him to be, though, his presence would make Indiana a favorite to emerge from the pack and snag a playoff berth. While we’re dubious that George will play like his old self for any sustained stretch over the season’s remainder – note that his Instagram post with the caption “some burn” indicates a limited amount of playing time, too – his return will serve as a major boon for Indiana nonetheless.
Welcome back, PG! The Pacers and Heat tip-off from Banker’s Life Fieldhouse at 6:00 EST on Sunday.