It was the kind of basketball play made every day — a player is driving to the basket to score and a defender goes in the air attempting to stop him.
It’s a play Paul George has probably executed thousands of times safely and successfully while being the player on defense.
On Friday at the Thomas &Mack Center, George was in such a position to make a stop when James Harden was headed to the basket 27 seconds into the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Showcase. George, the Indiana Pacers’ star guard who was playing for the Blue squad in the intrasquad scrimmage, went in the air to try to get a piece of Harden’s layup attempt.
George missed. And in doing so, he landed awkwardly on his right leg, crashing into the basket stanchion.
For the next 15 minutes, George laid under the basket in pain as Team USA trainers, physicians and paramedics tended to him. He was eventually stabilized, placed on a stretcher and wheeled off the court and taken to University Medical Center’s trauma center for further observation and treatment.
What had been a joyous celebration of basketball in front of a crowd of 12,186 suddenly turned somber. Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski took the microphone and announced that the game, in which the White team led the Blue 81-71 with 9:33 remaining, would be ended at that point.
“I want to thank the people of Las Vegas who were here for their understanding of what was most important,” Krzyzewski said in the postgame news conference. “But we didn’t feel it was appropriate to continue playing out of respect for Paul and his family.”
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said the full extent of George’s injury was not immediately known, and he didn’t want to speculate on the severity of it until he had talked to the team’s medical staff. Team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Riley J. Williams III of New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery accompanied George to UMC.
“This is a very tough blow,” Colangelo said. “Not so much about us, but about Paul. It’s a first for us at USA Basketball to take place, and it’s a tough situation for our entire organization, our coaches and our players. It was very emotional.”
Colangelo said no roster decisions will be made for a few days as the coaching staff reassesses the situation. Team USA reconvenes Aug. 14 in Chicago to continue preparations for the FIBA World Cup, which begins Aug. 30 in Spain.
“We need to just take a step back before we do anything,” Colangelo said. “It really puts things into perspective. It seems so inappropriate in the grand scheme of things to talk about roster moves. Everything’s on hold.”
George posted a statement on Twitter shortly after 9 p.m. saying: “Thanks everybody for the love and support. I’ll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y’all!!”
Pacers president Larry Bird said in a statement: “We are aware of the injury sustained by Paul George in Friday night’s Team USA game in Las Vegas and are obviously greatly concerned. At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with Paul. We are still gathering details, and we will have an updated statement (today).”
In a statement released by the NBA, commissioner Adam Silver said of George’s injury: “It was difficult to watch the injury that Paul George sustained tonight while representing his country. The thoughts and prayers of all us at the NBA are with Paul and his family.”
The other 19 Team USA players went to the team bus without talking to the media. They were visibly shaken by the injury to their teammate.
“I thought our trainers and doctors did a great job reacting to Paul and helping him,” Krzyzewski said. “Dr. Williams was right on the scene.
“Our focus right now is getting the best care for Paul.”
Colangelo said he didn’t know how George’s injury will impact Team USA or what it means for other players perhaps having cause for concern before volunteering to represent their country.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate to comment on that subject right now,” Colangelo said. “That’s a discussion for another day. Our focus right now is on Paul, and that’s where it needs to be.”
Before Paul’s gruesome fall, Derrick Rose was displaying his old quickness and wowing the crowd with explosive moves to the basket. The Chicago Bulls’ star guard, trying to come back from injuries to both knees that limited his playing time the past two years, was clearly the fan favorite. He finished with eight points.
Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan of the Blue team led all scorers with 16 points. Harden led the White with 15 points.
George, who appeared to have a spot on the roster locked up based on his play during training camp this week at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center, went 0-for-7 from the field.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.