On Dec. 1, he went scoreless at Golden State, missing all seven of his shots. The Pacers, supposed contenders in the East, were 8--9. On the flight home George sat next to reserve guard Orlando Johnson, who played at UC Santa Barbara and faced him in college. "You need to get back to the basics," Johnson instructed. When the plane landed, George fired 500 jumpers on Indiana's practice court and formulated a supplementary 30-minute shooting routine he vowed to complete before every game. "He took the early bus, and if he couldn't do that, he took a cab," says assistant coach Jim Boylen. "He was out there when the cheerleaders were practicing."
Three days after the clunker against the Warriors, George scored 34 points in a win at Chicago. "Everything changed with that game," Johnson says. "His season, and our season, turned there."
Before the conference semifinals, George received a call from a number he didn't recognize. "I texted back, 'Who's this?' " George says. "The response was, 'It's Reg.' " Miller delivered a brief history lesson on Pacers-Knicks, mid-1990s, and encouraged George to savor the Madison Square Garden stage. For 13 days George mirrored Anthony, running wherever he ran, rising whenever he rose. In Game 6, Anthony scored 35 points in the first three quarters, and the Knicks led by three with nine minutes left. Eventually, though, the shadow catches up. Anthony missed his next three shots and coughed up three costly turnovers and Bankers Life Fieldhouse erupted with chants of Beat the Heat. As George plopped into a folding chair at his locker after the 106--99 win, slipping on a pair of pink shower shoes, a club official standing nearby mentioned, "We're the only team to beat Miami two out of three times this year."
In one of those games James scored 13 points, his fewest of the season. In another he committed seven turnovers, matching his most. But he still made more shots than he missed, and the last time he met the Pacers in the playoffs he bulldozed by them as if they were props in a Samsung commercial. With the Knicks out of the way, George tried to relish a few precious moments between Anthony and James. To relax, he fishes on Geist Reservoir, a man-made lake near point guard George Hill's house. But there was no time for casting, not with the whale looming in Biscayne Bay.
Granger played only five games this season, requiring surgery on his left knee, and his absence prompted his protégé's ascent. Last week, George was watching Oklahoma City against Memphis on television in his apartment when Oklahoma City point guard and close friend Reggie Jackson made a quick first step to the basket. "This summer," George announced, "I want to work on that move." He must attack more, pull up less, and raise a shooting percentage that dipped to 41.9% this season with increased attempts. "I don't even know anymore where his ceiling is," says Walsh.
Miami is lifting the NBA, the way the Lakers once boosted the Celtics, and vice versa. Then, Magic and Bird were spurring each other, and now it is James and a whole generation. George is among them, his emergence a response to the Heat, and suddenly a threat.