Paul George is the Los Angeles Clippers’ lone hope at making their first NBA Finals appearance. … [+] (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Following Paul George’s masterful 41-point, 13- rebound, six-assist performance in the Los Angeles Clippers’ 116–102 victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 on Monday, one thing is for certain — George is shedding that “choker” label with his current postseason play.
George scored 30 points on 80-plus percent shooting from the field in the second half of the Clippers’ Game 5 win — becoming just the third player in NBA history to accomplish that feat.
While the Clippers may very well fall short of their first NBA Finals appearance — they currently trail 3–2 against the Suns and are trying to become the first team in postseason history to overcome three 2–0 series deficits — it doesn’t detract from what the 31-year-old has been able to accomplish.
Not only has George put up remarkable statistics in this year’s playoffs — he has scored at least 20 points in all of his postseason games this year, just the fourth player to do so — he has done it as the main guy for Los Angeles.
Kawhi Leonard has been missing from the lineup since the Clippers’ Game 4 victory over the Jazz in the semifinals. When Leonard went out due to injury, many expected the Clippers to falter against the Western Conference’s top seed.
Instead, George led the Clippers to two consecutive victories over the top team in the West, including overcoming a 25-point deficit in the second half.
And now, he’s leading an undermanned Clippers squad — without key players in Leonard and Serge Ibaka — to within two games of their first-ever Finals appearance.
Words can’t put into perspective how much of the load George is shouldering for this team — he’s played 735 minutes this postseason.
The next closest?
The Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young with 568 minutes played.
While “Playoff P” isn’t perfect — he did miss key free throws in the Clippers’ narrow four-point Game 4 loss to the Suns and his two missed free throws towards the end of Game 2 led to the Suns’ eventual game-winning basket with 0.7 seconds left — he is reminding fans why he was deemed such a clutch player early on his career with the Indiana Pacers.
It may seem like many years ago, but George first established himself as a star while going toe-to-toe with the league’s best player, LeBron James. He did this in his early 20’s in three consecutive postseasons — even coming a game short of leading the Pacers to the NBA Finals at the age of 23.
But this year’s performance — without Leonard — while leading a historically inept franchise to their most success against the league’s top teams stands as the most impressive accomplishment on George’s resume.
Has George been unfairly criticized over the years for his playoff shortcomings?
The seven-time All-Star believes that to be the case, via ESPN:
“I do. And it’s the honest truth. It’s a fact. But I can’t worry about that. It comes with the job, I guess. … I still try to go and dominate. … And so I’m beyond that, you know what I mean. I am who I am. I wish I could shoot 80%, 75%, on a nightly basis, but it’s not realistic,” he said, via ESPN.
“What I can do is do everything else. They can judge me on what they want to. That part don’t matter to me. I’m going to go out there and hoop and give it everything I got.”
Remember, it wasn’t until his two-year stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder that this reputation developed (two first-round playoff exits), and it was furthered when the championship-favored Clippers fell to the Denver Nuggets in the semifinals last year.
That perception was aided by a number of lowlights from George in the closing minutes of the game — including a number of three-point bricks and an airball.
But George is quickly making people forget about those recent playoff shortcomings with his most recent performances in this year’s postseason — including moves like this on players like Chris Paul.
It’s no coincidence George’s best performances come when he’s the top guy — without ball-dominant players such as Leonard and Russell Westbrook.
The guy can still carry a team and prove to be clutch when his team needs him.
He may not be LeBron or Kevin Durant, but there’s nothing wrong with being in that Jimmy Butler tier.
George is reminding fans that he still is a 1A option.