Generally, the first round of the NBA playoffs shouldn't be a tight-roping scenario for the number one seed. But in the case of this year's Indiana Pacers team, they tried their hardest to make it one, eventually squeaking past the last-seed Atlanta Hawks in seven games.
With Roy Hibbert's face plastered on the side of milk cartons, Lance Stephenson's attitude getting in the way of basketball things and head coach Frank Vogel reportedly coaching for his job, the Pacers were (and until further notice, are) strapped to the back of Paul George.
Amidst the scrutiny and criticism surrounding the Pacers, George averaged a double-double through the first round, with 23.9 points on 45 percent shooting from the floor, 10.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
On Monday, George and the Pacers will tipoff their second-round series against the Washington Wizards, who have been plopped on the couch with their feet up since upsetting the Chicago Bulls and closing out their first-round series in five games almost a week prior.
Although the Wizards are playing better basketball at the moment, and with much more camaraderie than the rotten attitude floating around Indiana, Washington does rely on a small forward of their own in Trevor Ariza - who served as both a three-point marksman and defensive specialist for the Wizards this season.
Much like George, head coach Randy Wittman and the Wizards have used the 6'8" Ariza as the chess piece against opposing players who pose the biggest threat on offense, whether by way of quickness, shooting, penetrating, etc. Because of his natural length, defensive instincts and versatility, Ariza has the ability to contain everyone from point guards to power forwards.
Given George's current hot streak, his floor position, and the fact that he's a focal point in everything the Pacers do (28.3 usage percentage), the bell will once again ring for Ariza, as he's asked to lead the way in clearing the largest blockade in his team's road to the Eastern Conference Finals.
As a longtime miserable Wizards fans who can finally enjoy the current flavor of a Washington basketball franchise, it's been fun to watch firsthand Ariza's defensive prowess and utility. You watch it, you see it, you like it - and sometimes you refer to him as your team's MVP. But in looking at how things change when Ariza's on the floor with an assignment like, say, Paul George, the derived numbers on paper are even more impressive.
Over the course of the season, the Wizards and Pacers met on three different occasions. And while Washington only managed to get one win against Indiana this year, George's numbers were drastically different under one unique circumstance: when Trevor Ariza was on the floor.
With Ariza on the floor, George posted an offensive rating of just 94.1, as opposed to 106.6 with Ariza on the bench and a 102.7 offensive rating for the season. Additionally, George was less efficient shooting the ball, watching his regular season effective field goal percentage go from 49 percent, to just 34.4 when facing Ariza.
Not to be confused as a one-sided argument from a Wizards homer, George can cause just as much trouble for Ariza as a lengthy and bothersome defender himself. Although Ariza's offensive rating doesn't actually decrease with George on the court as opposed to when he's off, an offensive rating of just 75.1 when going against George is well below Ariza's 104.8 regular season standard.
A safe assumption for the upcoming series is that each guy finds a way to flirt with their season averages, but without the glitz and flash. Instead, both Ariza and George will have to fight for every bucket, and claw for every rebound. Just as Ariza will work to disrupt PG's deadly mid-range game, George will need to keep tabs on Ariza and keep him from drifting into the corners, where he connects on nearly 45 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in those areas.
As a result of each guy being a starter and playing a lot of minutes for their respective team, the sample size is naturally larger for both George and Ariza on the floor together when the Pacers play the Wizards. However, the numbers do help to illustrate a defensive battle between two respected stalwarts - a battle that very well could determine which team maintains their title hopes, and which team goes home.