With his team facing elimination in a game that had all the odds stacked against them, arguably the game’s most ridiculed NBA player Paul George aka Playoff P/Pandemic P, led the team in every statistical category except blocks to keep the Clippers’ championship hopes alive as they cruised to a 116-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Kawhi Leonard continues to be unavailable due to an injury, with the Clippers down 3-1, needing a win on the road to stay alive in the Western Conference Finals. On top of that, starting center Ivica Zubac, the primary matchup for DeAndre Ayton was also ruled out of last night’s elimination game, which made it seem like things were not looking good for the Clippers. Surprisingly they jumped out to an early lead by way of some hot shooting from Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. The duo kept the Clippers ahead early as Paul George struggled in the opening half and appeared to be tentative on the offensive end, finishing the first half with only 11 points. As expected, the Suns made a furious comeback - only then was the fabled Playoff P activated.
George scored 30 in the second half and finished the game with a total of 41 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals, giving fans one of the all-time great performances by a player when facing elimination. Paul was also efficient as he went 15 for 20 from the field for a whopping 75% shooting percentage last night. To cap off his stellar performance, George now has scored 20 or more points in the first 18 games of the playoffs, putting himself in elite company in that regard.
Only three other players have achieved the same feat in their careers, and they are truly some of the game’s greatest. To do something only Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan have done in their careers is to be celebrated. This comes as a surprise to most as Paul is one of the most heavily criticized players this league has ever seen, even he himself has noticed this and is not afraid to speak of it.
“I do (get picked on), and it's the honest truth. It’s a fact. But I can’t worry about that. It comes with the job, I guess. It is what it is… I still try to dominate the whole game in general. To me it doesn’t come down to just scoring.”
Paul George, postgame interview
While Paul should be proud of this performance, this is not a time for celebration for him and the Clippers just yet. KD, Kobe, and MJ all reached the Finals in the seasons they accomplished this feat, and while a Finals appearance is also what George is currently working towards, there is still much work to be done for him and his team. The Clippers host the Suns for Game 6 with the chance to force a deciding game back in Phoenix, but what is usually meant to be a comforting situation for the home team might not be exactly that for the Clippers. They have lost both home games so far in this series and several others in the previous rounds. Phoenix, on the other hand, closed out both their previous series on the road, with one being in the same building they will be visiting in Game 6.
As great as Paul George was last night, he will have to be even better for the Clippers to have a shot at beating the Suns in this series. Phoenix came out flat last night while the Clippers got great production early in the game Jackson and Morris Sr. Without a doubt, the Suns will make adjustments from the opening tip-off, and Paul will need to be aggressive early, unlike in Game 5. He is a naturally unselfish player who often likes to let the game come to him, but to keep their season alive, George might have to elevate his game once more and perhaps be a bit out of character.
As we look forward to Game 6, most will say that it is time for the Suns to finish off the series, but PG just proved to us that he is among the game’s best right now. A former MVP candidate and a player battle-tested in his early years with Indiana, best believe that PG has what it takes to give his team two more superhuman performances and take them to the NBA finals.
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