The Los Angeles Clippers have a simple solution to eliminating the Dallas Mavericks from the playoffs: Have Paul George do more than put on a uniform. For the first four games through their first-round playoff series against the Mavericks, George, who has been seen as the complete bookend to Kawhi Leonard in the Clippers’ march to get to the NBA Finals, have been a no-show. That’s not what the Clippers signed up for.
George is one of the best players in the NBA. He is a six-time All-Star. He is widely hailed as an elite defender. But by the way that he has played in the first four games of the postseason, George has emulated a most inopportune time to convert to a disappearing act as the Mavericks has the Clippers fit to be tied in the series at 2-2.
In the Clippers’ 135-133 overtime Game 4 loss to the Mavericks, George gave his team next to nothing in his 45 minutes of playing action. George scored nine points after making three of his 14 shots from the field. He did have eight rebounds, but his defense has looked spotty. Unfortunately, this is not a one-off for George and the Clippers.
In Game 3, 130-122 Clippers’ win, George was 3 of 16 from the field and finished the game with 11 points in 37 minutes of playing time. In a 127-114 Game 2 loss to the Mavericks, George had another unproductive night, making 4 of 17 field goals to complete the game with 14 points. After that game, George put the onus of his shooting woes on getting into foul trouble early.
“Just schematic. We’ll figure it out,” George said in a postgame press conference. “That’s all it comes down to, is taking away what they want
to get to. But we got to just do a better job of it. It was, it was tough. It’s always tough when you pick up cheap fouls trying to find a rhythm, trying to give your team a boost. It is what it is. I tried to play out of it. Offensively, it was a struggling night for me.”
It’s been a four-game stretch thus far of offensive struggles for George. And even though he scored 27 points in the Clippers’ 118-110 victory over Dallas in Game 1, George made less than half of his shots (10 of 22) from the field. With George in an offensive funk, the Clippers are two games from having their season go bye-bye, an occurrence that should not happen but very well could be a reality if George is not on his game.
After the Clippers’ Game 2 defeat to the Mavericks, George said the loss is an indication of just how difficult it is to play in the Western Conference.
They’re a good team,” George said. “Goes to show you the west is tough. Eighth seed beat the first seed yesterday. The west is tough. It’s a tough conference. Any given night, any team, especially here, can win. We have full-on seen that. It’s no surprise. What you have to do is come ready to play.”
The Clippers are going to need George to take his own words to heart if they are to knock out the Western Conference’s No.7 seed and continue a run deep into the postseason. The scenario is quite obvious for the Clippers. If George, who averaged over 21 points a game during the regular season, fails to contribute the way the team needs him, they’ll be at home watching the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic grow legendary by the game.
Doncic dropped 43 points on the Clippers in Game 4, including the winning 3-point shot in overtime over the outstretched arms of Reggie Jackson. Clippers coach Doc Rivers thinks George will come around to being who he is on the court. Well, that time had better be soon.
“Listen, we’ve run the same stuff all year; Paul George averages 25 points,” Rivers said. “So it’s not like they’re doing something defensively. We just gotta play with great confidence. Paul, again I still believe this, he’s going to be fine. He just has to be more aggressive, aggressive in the right way. And I think it will work out for him. We do run plays for them. We do all the other stuff. But we have to get him more involved and that’s just really running our stuff the way we should run it.”
I write about sports, racial and social justice, culture, and everything else in between. Beat writer for the Rams, Chargers, Lakers, and Clippers. Part of the inaugural Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship class. Howard University alum.