It is no secret that professional athletes will struggle through injury and discomfort to win massively important games. On Tuesday night, though, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers appears to have dealt with serious discomfort toward the end of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the visiting Miami Heat.
With a little under 7:00 remaining in the fourth quarter, George dove for a loose ball after playing strong defense on Heat star Dwyane Wade. In the process, Wade fell on top of and over George, with Wade's left knee and right leg both making contact with the back of George's head. Both players stayed on the ground, and the Pacers called a timeout immediately after referees called a shot clock violation on the Heat. Take a look below:
The play preceded a game-changing 10-0 run, with the Heat eventually turning a 75-72 deficit into an 82-75 lead on their way to tying the series at 1-1 and stealing away home-court advantage. George was essentially a non-factor over that stretch, merely splitting two free throws and committing one turnover to complete an uninspiring performance overall (14 points on 4-of-16 FGs, six assists and five rebounds).
It appears that George had a good excuse for not playing a major role in crunch time. In his postgame media conference, the two-time All-Star said that the collision with Wade was not exactly harmless (quote via The Point Forward):
“I blacked out as soon as it happened and then … however much time was remaining, I was just blurry.”
That sounds pretty bad, obviously, and would cause anyone, athlete or not, to go about their day with severe discomfort. However, George's explanation also sounds a whole lot like something that should require concussion tests, as dictated by the NBA's policy on such injuries. Here's the relevant passage:
If a player is suspected of having a concussion, or exhibits the signs or symptoms of concussion, they will be removed from participation and undergo evaluation by the medical staff in a quiet, distraction-free environment conducive to conducting a neurological evaluation.
Now, the fact that George didn't come out of the game does not mean that the Pacers engaged in any wrongdoing. For one thing, Indiana head coach Frank Vogel said that he got word that George was fine:
"The only information I got during the game is that he's okay, good to go."
Per Pacers PR: Paul George answered all the ?s on the bench that pertained to the concussion protocol. Only symptom was pain in back of head— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) May 21, 2014
If we take everyone at their word, then it's likely that George said he was fine following the collision and only spoke up about his blurred vision after the game. That wouldn't be so surprising, if true, because these athletes spend their entire lives building toward playing for an NBA title and regularly play through injuries to achieve their goals.
Yet, in that scenario, George or any player in the same situation — this is a hypothetical, after all — would not have abided by the rules and guidelines that the NBA has created to deal with head injuries. The problem might not be that he hasn't been educated. Rather, it could be that many athletes will knowingly risk long-term harm to achieve a career-long goal.
Again, we shouldn't assume that George has a concussion or that the Pacers knowingly shirked their duties. But this situation appears to make an instructive point about concussion education in general. While the NBA has not had to reckon with the injury to the same extent as the NFL or the NHL, the league still takes concussions very seriously. Regardless of that attention, though, there may always be a point at which an athlete will consider winning a crucial game more important than checking on an injury they can't be sure exists, especially when there are only a few minutes remaining to decide the game. Education can help, but that awareness doesn't always trump the desire to win.
At any rate, it seems like George will be back in the Pacers' lineup for Saturday's Game 3 in Miami. Here's hoping he feels no lingering effects from the collision and comes back at full strength.
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