Here is what George, who broke his right leg in a gruesome accident during a Team USA scrimmage in August, put on Instagram on Saturday morning:
George was initially projected to miss the entire 2014-15 season.
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The Pacers play the Miami Heat on Easter, in a matchup that could very well decide each team’s playoff fate. If Miami falls to the Detroit Pistons on Saturday evening, the Pacers could enter that contest just a game in back of the Heat for the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. If the Pacers prevail in George’s return, the team will have tied Miami for that eighth seed with Indiana holding the tiebreaker advantage.
Team USA Managing Director Jerry Colangelo, via Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, was understandably relieved to see George return earlier than expected following the frightening accident that saw George tumble into a basket station during a Team USA exhibition:
"I'm very happy for him that he's coming back. I'm not surprised because he's such a competitor. Once he got cleared I expected him to come back this season. He wanted to come back to prove it to himself and show what he is made of. It's a big step and exciting for him. It's a big moment."
"It is one of those things that you wished would never happen. I remember the look on the faces of the players and the coaches. Paul didn't look like he was in shock. He was so stoic. But when Paul, the players and the coaches gathered around in the locker room, it was a sobering moment. It was traumatic for all of us."
"I do believe it was a freak injury that happened. The stantions have been changed and there is a different length from the baseline. There have been a lot of basketball games that have been played on that court since this happened.
"We're behind him in every regard. We hope to see him in August for our mini-camp. We forward to seeing him 100 percent and as part of our Olympic effort next year."
“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.”
The top seed in the East a year ago, the Pacers have struggled in George’s absence, working up a 33-43 record with six games left to play this season – all six presumably with George. Though the team did win 13 of 15 games at one point, the Pacers have lost nine of 12 since that run. George, a two-time All-Star, averaged 21.7 points and 6.8 rebounds last season.
George initially started practicing with the Pacers in February, after weeks of informal forays following actual team scrimmages. When Indiana (a team that was stuck at 15-30 at one point) began its turnaround, George admitted that he was wary of upsetting the team's chemistry as the squad clawed its way back into the playoff picture, only committing to return to the Team USA's summertime mini-camp.
In March, Pacers president Larry Bird told reporters that he wanted George to return late in the season, not so much to act as the swingman bulwark for his potential postseason outfit, but for the small forward's own mental health as he deals with what will be a career-altering injury. NBA players don't usually suffer broken legs while working on the court, and it remains to be seen as to whether George can return to his status as one of the NBA's most athletic talents.
Pacers fans, currently, don't mind. To them, only one thing matters right now:
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