Paul George and Jabari Parker went at each other on the BMO Harris Bradley Center court Thursday night like two pit bulls.
George, the Indiana Pacers’ All-Star forward, and Parker, the Bucks’ gifted young forward, challenged the other with unbridled intensity, neither backing down from the other.
When the horn sounded, both players had posted impressive numbers: George totaled 24 points, four rebounds and two steals, and Parker finished with 27 points on 11 of 17 field-goal attempts and eight rebounds.
Yet, while Parker and George are fierce rivals on the court, they are good friends off it. They established a friendship almost two years ago – or about the time when the highly touted Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, suffered a serious injury.
George, knowing something about devastating injuries – he suffered a gruesome broken leg during a scrimmage with the U.S. National team in the summer of 2014 – quickly reached out to Parker and offered moral support.
“For me, it was giving insight, about dealing with being injured and coming back and what it takes to come back,’’ George said. “I just wanted to be a voice that he could lean on while he was going through his hard times.
“With injuries, not a lot of people are used to dealing with them. But I told Jabari that you got to attack them the same way you attack working out or stuff you love to do. You have to attack rehab the same way. And he took that to heart and ran with it.
“So, I’m extremely happy of what he’s made of it. He came back even more athletic than he was before. A knee surgery is nothing to play around with. I’m just glad he’s got everything back. I’m rooting for him.’’
Parker played in only 25 games his rookie season after suffering the injury and was understandably cautious upon his return to the court last season. But after the All-Star break last February, Parker regained his confidence and saw his game blossom, averaging 18.9 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Interestingly, Parker’s game soared after hooking up with George at the All-Star in Toronto.
“I had been speaking with him over the phone and then, at All-Star weekend, we got together,’’ George said. “I asked him how he’s doing, how his body is. I let him know I was still in his corner.’’
Parker, now 21, said he sincerely appreciated George’s continual support.
“A lot of people gave me support, but someone who specifically gave me a lot of praise and encouraged me to stay confident was Paul George,’’ Parker said. “He helped me get over that hump. He gave me words of encouragement whenever I saw him.
“I don’t know word for word what he said, but it was like, ‘You got to trust your body. You got to push through, but you got to be smart at the same time.’ What he said meant a lot to me.’’
Now that Parker is 100 percent healthy again – he’s averaging a robust 17.6 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range – George contends the 21-year-old Parker could be on his way to being a special player.
“He could be really good,’’ George said. “The craziest part about it is that he doesn’t know what he’s doing out there. It’s just reaction. The game really hasn’t slowed down for him yet.
“He’s already been phenomenal on the court, but once he fully understands what he can do on the court and what he has around him personnel-wise, the sky is the limit.’’
And maybe the next time Parker and George run into each other at an All-Star Game, it’ll be as Eastern Conference teammates.
“That would be great,’’ George said with a smile. “I’m looking forward to it. I hope so.’’