Indiana Pacers star Paul George suffers major leg injury in USA Basketball exhibition

August 2, 2014

Paul George lies on floor after injuring his leg
Photo by: Tri Le
Las Vegas -- What started out as an intra-squad game showcasing the superiority of American basketball, turned out to be an absolute nightmare for the USA Basketball Men's National Team, as Indiana Pacers star forward Paul George sustained a fracture to his lower right leg in a gruesome injury that left fans, teammates, and coaches shaken Friday night at UNLV's Thomas and Mack Center.

Following George's removal from the court on a stretcher, the contest was immediately halted with 9:33 remaining in the fourth quarter.  At the time of the stoppage, the White Team led the Blue Team, 81-71.

George suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture and was immediately transferred to Sunrise Hospital where he underwent successful surgery to fix the fracture. Dr. David Silverberg, Dr. Joseph Yu, and USA Basketball team physician Riley Williams, were present for the surgery.

George is expected to remain hospitalized for approximately three days.

"It was difficult to watch the injury that Paul George sustained tonight while representing his country," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  "The thoughts and prayers of all of us at the NBA are with Paul and his family."

The injury occurred when George jumped to contest James Harden's shot attempt at the rim in transition.  As he landed, George seemed to make contact with the basket stanchion, forcing his leg to bend awkwardly.

Although the injury occurred near this reporter on press row, in real time it was hard to determine what happened.  The true indicator of the injury's severity came from crowd's gasps, the players' stunned reactions, and the refusal of the arena operators to show a replay on the scoreboard.

Coach K described the post-game locker room as "very emotional."

Stunned Team USA reacts to Paul George's injury / Photo by: Tri Le

George's attempted play on the ball was unusual at least for this exhibition, as throughout the game, players on both sides were not defending aggressively in the paint and often seemed to back off from giving hard fouls.

Although both sides displayed solid defense further out on the perimeter, George's play was one of the few times during the game that someone tried to contest a shot in transition.  Nevertheless, it certainly was not a bad or abnormal basketball play on his part.

George's injury not only will impact his career and the Indiana Pacers' future, but also will affect the NBA and arguably, USA Basketball.

As for George, some are estimating an 18-month recovery time, with no guarantee that he will be the same elite player.

Prior to the injury, George had emerged as one of the best players at his position, often mentioned in the same conversation with such players as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony.  With his athleticism, long range shooting ability, and continued development, George projected as a potential MVP candidate over the next few years.

Now all that talk has come to a screeching halt.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers, and for that matter the entire Eastern Conference, have been dealt a significant curveball with the injury.

With LeBron James weakening Miami by jumping ship to Cleveland, and with the East's generally weak collection of teams, many believed that the Pacers had an excellent opportunity to advance to the Finals this season, despite the team's loss of free agent Lance Stephenson.

Considering Indiana no longer has George or Stephenson -- the only two guys from last season who could consistently create off the dribble with the shot clock running down -- the Pacers can essentially kiss their title dreams goodbye.

Or, in the words of the late Chick Hearn, "They have two chances: Slim and none. And Slim just left the building."

Kevin Durant drives for layup / Photo by: Tri Le
But as much as George's injury will impact the Pacers, more questions loom over the future of the U.S. National Team.

"It's a first for us at USA Basketball to have something like this take place," admitted USA Basketball's top dog, Jerry Colangelo.

When Colangelo took over USA Basketball, he transformed the underachieving program into a well-organized and team-oriented operation that fostered continuity while also smoothly integrating new young talent.  The result was successful program that won multiple gold medals and created a desire among the NBA's best players to participate in the prestigious program free of charge.

It remains to be seen whether such enthusiasm will remain among the players over time, as the George injury is a potential game-changer for any star looking at the prospect of playing for no compensation in an offseason basketball tournament.

For the past few seasons, the conventional wisdom has been that the benefits of playing for Team USA have outweighed the added wear and tear on the body, as players often returned to the NBA more confident, sharp, and skilled following a summer practicing and playing against some of the world's top players.

Having one's face prominently seen in a high-profile event such as the Olympics did not hurt either.

George's career-impacting injury is the first of its kind since Colangelo took over Team USA, so nobody truly knows what the future will hold.

Will a player such as Derrick Rose, fresh off two recent knee surgeries, want to risk further damage and perhaps another lost season in Chicago in order to earn a gold medal?  One can assume that many  agents would not want their gravy train clients participating in future FIBA events.

Or perhaps things are being overstated a bit.  If the players are not playing for the national team, many would be playing summer pickup ball.  In other words, the risk of injury is always there, so why not play in an organized setting?

As for the exhibition game itself, it became insignificant very quickly in the grand scheme of things, to the point that it was cancelled and nobody voiced even the slightest objection.

At the post-game press conference, USA Basketball properly kept the focus on George, rather than on  the game or future roster composition.

"It would be so inappropriate for us to talk about anything else while there is a serious injury like this," said Coach K.
Team USA's Derrick Rose / Photo By: Tri Le

For what it's worth, here are a few of our earlier observations on the game, none of which seem to matter right now after George's injury:

Rose Looks Ready

Derrick Rose looked aggressive, explosive, and not the least bit tentative coming off his second knee surgery.  On defense, he was a harassing presence, picking up his man near midcourt.  He also was the clear crowd favorite, as his every move was cheered.

Rose finished with 8 points on 3-for-4 shooting.

Lillard Must be on the Roster

Of all the point guards, Damian Lillard was by far the most effective in getting his team to run various half court sets.  When he did look to get his own shot, it usually was within the flow of the offense.

For a team comprised of a collection of stars with minimal familiarity, Team USA needs a floor general who can organize things and prevent the offense from devolving too much into an All-Star game.  Lillard has shown this ability, and he definitely should make the team's final roster.

Wall Struggles

One point guard who seemed to struggle greatly was John Wall.  Wall went 0 for 4, for 0 points, one assist, and 4 turnovers in 15 minutes.  The real problem was his lack of discipline, as he played in All-Star Game mode when on the floor, jumping in the air to pass repeatedly only to lead to a turnover and easy bucket the other way.  With Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Rose, and Stephen Curry all playing well, expect Wall to get cut.

Size Matters: Cousins and Drummond Make Presence Felt

When it came to the bigs, the size and strength of the White Team's DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond made an impact when matched against the smaller Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried.  Cousins had a double-double with 11 and 11, while Drummond grabbed 5 rebounds.  Both made their presence felt crashing the offensive glass, and were rightfully rewarded later on with offensive touches on the low block.  In contrast, the thinner, more finesse-oriented Davis, grabbed only 4 boards, none on the offensive end.

Team USA's recent rosters have tended to favor versatile perimeter players over big men, but Jerry Colangelo and Coach K would be wise to keep at least one of these two physical bigs on the team for the upcoming tournament.

By Mike Elliott
Editor for

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