The NBA playoffs have been a brutal war of attrition, with nearly every team left standing dealing with injuries to star players. The Los Angeles Clippers are no different — Kawhi Leonard reportedly has an ACL injury and is out indefinitely. Much like how Kevin Durant was thrown into the fray without Kyrie Irving, Paul George will be facing a similar situation.
Remember Paul George? The career 20.2 points per game small forward has upped his game recently, especially in these playoffs.
Over the last three games, he has logged 27, 31, and 31 points. He’s taking his game to new heights, performing at the highest level when his team needs it the most. The Clippers started their semifinals series with the Utah Jazz by dropping their first two games, but have clawed back into it to draw even.
This series has plenty of stars. On the opposite side, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert showed up early, putting their stamp on this series. Mitchell hung 45 points on the Clippers in Game 1 and 37 in Game 2, a game that also saw Gobert haul in 20 rebounds.
In Game 3, George put it together. His defense was improved, his scoring was there, and he played the role of playmaker and facilitator, adding five assists to his 31 points.
“We feed off of that,” Nicolas Batum said of George’s Game 3 performance. “He had 20 points in the first half. He got great shots, he was confident attacking the rim. On defense, he was great as well. He was talking to everybody during timeouts on the court. So when PG’s playing like that, it makes the game easier for the team.”
George, as talented as he is, has never led a team to the NBA Finals, and hasn’t been to a Conference Finals since he took the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat in 2014, a series they lost in six games. If he is going to make his first NBA Finals appearance, he’s going to have to do it as the clear No. 1 on his team.
As George goes, so goes the Clippers.
The situation mirrors that of last night’s historic Kevin Durant showing — it’s Game 5 of a tied series and a superstar teammate has been ruled out. Durant responded in legendary fashion. Tonight, George has the opportunity to do the same, and to add to his legacy.
Yesterday, George said “I don’t look at the minutes. If I could, I would play all 48.”
Without Kawhi Leonard, he just might have to.