The second seeded Los Angeles Clippers have had quite an up and down season up until this point. They finished the regular season at 49-23 which was solid enough to lock up the 2 seed in the loaded Western Conference playoffs. You wouldn’t think “up and down” would be the most accurate term to describe a near 50 win team in the Western Conference. The truth is due to numerous injuries, Kawhi Leonard’s load managing, and new mid-season acquisitions, the Clippers just haven’t been able to get into a consistent rhythm.
Last summer, when the Clippers shockingly acquired elite two way scorers Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the whole basketball world was put on notice. Surrounding them with defensive pest Patrick Beverley, 6th man of the year finalists Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, the foundation was set in stone for their championship aspirations. Injuries and or other health related issues sidelined each of their core players for a significant amount of time. Organizations have adapted to Leonard’s season by season body maintenance in preparation for postseason play which, credit to him, has proven thus far worth the X amount of regular season games he sat out. Paul George has had a lingering on and off left hamstring injury that limited him to 48 games this year. Patrick Beverley has been in and out of the lineup all year with a right groin injury and now a calf injury in the bubble.
Montrezl Harrell himself, who recently just joined the Clippers, had missed all of the bubble exhibition games and most of the resuming regular season games due to personal reasons. He is looking to keep bringing the spark and grit off the bench like he’s done the past couple years. Mid-season acquisitions Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson were a couple guys that were brought along to provide more depth and experience. Due to the fact that the Clippers have been suffering from the injury plague all year and the timing of the pandemic, they weren’t able to get acclimated with each other for a substantial amount of time to establish that desired team chemistry.
The Clippers are currently up two games to one in the first round of the NBA playoffs on the Dallas Mavericks. Kawhi Leonard has a whooping 100 points through the first three games which is the most in franchise history through a team’s first three playoff games. A glaring topic that has been discussed among the basketball community recently is the inconsistent play of All-Star swingman Paul George or better known on social media among those who troll as “Playoff P’. After putting up 27 points and a dagger three-pointer from the top of the key in Game 1, PG has struggled to be effective on the offensive end being held under 15 points in both Games 2 & 3.
During a post-game interview after last night’s Game 3 addressing his shooting woes “That’s not my knack … to just shoot the ball, score the ball. I can and I pride myself on being effective on both ends. But there’s going to be nights like this where I just can’t make a shot, and I can’t allow that to affect my game.” The 5-time All-NBA PG has had dark moments in his playoff career as well a lot of great ones. Despite all these dark moments that have created this narrative that Paul George “can’t handle the pressure” or “can’t perform under the lights” this is still one of the top 10 to 15 players in the world that can be the best player on the court at any given moment. But let’s not get it twisted this is still the same Paul George that has put up 27.3, 28, 24.7, and 28.6 points a night in the playoffs while guarding the opposing team’s best player dating back to the 2015-16 season. With the exception of Kevin Durant, PG is also one of the very few small forwards if any that has gone blow for blow with a prime Lebron James pushing the then juggernaut Miami Heat to seven games in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals and six games in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals during his time in Indiana. But this is exactly why PG is the biggest X factor for the Clippers’ title hopes.
PG hasn’t had a lot of recent success as the number one guy, but that’s also why the Kawhi-PG pairing fits exceptionally. Kawhi taking that burden off of his shoulders can allow PG to be the best PG he can be and play that superstar Robin role like a Scottie Pippen. Last year, Paul George finished third in MVP voting, third in Defensive Player of the Year, made both the All-NBA first team and the All-NBA defensive first team. This was playing side by side with Russell Westbrook who himself has this stigma that other star players cannot play beside him. The only players over the past 10 years to be a MVP/DPOY finalist while making both first team All-NBA and first team defense in the same season are Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and yes, Paul George. That’s it, that’s the list.
Later on during the post-game presser George later stated “Shot-making … scoring the ball is not what I [only] do,” he added. “I try to do everything, I try to play the game the right way and just get lost in the game and try to pass the ball and make plays defensively, rebound. Just a little bit of everything. I am going through a tough time, but good thing about it, we are up 2-1 in this series and I haven’t shot the ball well.” Paul George’s versatility to take anyone off the dribble, shoot the ball from the perimeter, and defend the opposing team’s best player can go ways for the Clippers and they’ll only go as far as he takes them because he can be that security blanket for Kawhi. The Clippers are very fortunate to be up 2-1 in the series seeing that they’ve been outplayed in the first two games but only one can imagine how this series would look if PG had been shooting well in the first place. Indeed, PG is going to have to do a lot more walking than talking especially fresh off his war of words with Damian Lillard on social media a week or so prior. Let’s keep the same energy when Playoff P himself turns it around and puts everything together.