81 Days Later Paul George Still Treading Water

Just in case Paul George forgot who he rejected, Lakers fans were ready to remind him during a pre-pandemic sports event when fans poured into the Lakers stomping ground of yesteryear, the Forum. George had his face on the Jumbotron while attending an MMA event, and that is when the boos rained down. It was expected because even in Inglewood Clippers players are publicly despised. Many a day Laker fans booed Chris Paul and Blake Griffin with their kids in tow. When Kawhi Leonard was at a Rams game, he was booed too. But the George booing took on a menacing undertone because George openly rejected the Lakers when he was an unrestricted free agent, preferring to stay with Oklahoma City. The booing felt personal like Paul George was hated.

The perception of Los Angeles doesn’t meet the reality of Los Angeles. The liberal laid back oeuvre of the city and its celebrity mindlessness hides a fervent loyalty to the NBA’s cash cow. The Lakers live peacefully in harmony. To say Los Angeles is a Lakers town is like saying beer is wet. Ever since Jerry West and Elgin Baylor played their games at the Sports Arena after moving from Minneapolis, the Lakers success has incentivized their fans into passionate, dramatic, and emotional exchanges as they rep the purple and gold. Laker fan thinks every star wants to be a part of the Buss organization and when players feel differently, wrath is triggered.

Booing Paul George when he was off the clock might have been enough karma for Lakers fans but then there was a Game 7 atrocity; Paul George threw up a shot that hit the side of the billboard. He was a pitiful mess and the Clippers lost in the second round of the playoffs. George was part of the problem. He shot 39% and was inconsistent when the Clippers needed him to be the max player they overpaid. Chemistry issues with George didn’t help his perception as a pouter and finger pointer, particularly after Doc Rivers was fired.

But as turbulent as Paul George’s first year with the Clippers was, he could have bookended it with accountability and maturity when he appeared on the Up In Smoke podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. All George had to do was say:

  • “I take full responsibility for my play. I played poorly and let my team down. It was a tough year because I started the season late due to shoulder surgery and found myself filling in the gaps. I depend on my summer workouts to get me mentally ready for the season. That was not possible and it was a catastrophe.”
  • “As far as the playoffs. Our adjustments were poor. I think that has been documented. Nevertheless, as one of the leaders of the team, my job is to overcome adequate adjustments.”
  • “I’ve looked at the data and my pick and roll sets were the highest this past season than any year of my career. It’s not as simple as where I get the ball. I don’t blame coaches. I blame me. That’s where the responsibility begins and ends.”

But Paul George took the road less traveled. He blamed Doc Rivers. He cited incorrect data about P&R. He did everything but be accountable for his own failure. He looked irritated as if something was being done to him when the wound was self-inflicted. Kendrick Perkins called him a coward.

The thing is Doc Rivers was on the court for exactly 0 minutes in the 2020 playoffs. Paul George was on the court for 479 minutes. He has played in 89 playoff games. He has played in 4 game 7s.

Game 7 Points Field Goal % 3-Point % Win/Loss
2013 ECF  7 22.2% 25.0% 23 pt loss, Heat
2014 First Rd 30 47.8% 12.5% 12 pt win, Hawks
2016 First Rd 26 44.4% 57.1% 5 pt loss, Raptors
2020 Second Rd 10 24.0% 18.2% 15 pt loss, Nuggets

The side of the backboard airball wasn’t the worst thing about Paul George’s Game 7 against the Nuggets. If performances were graded, Paul George’s Game 7 would have been graded C for Catastrophic. He couldn’t shoot. Only had 4 rebounds- 1 rebound for every 9.5 minutes he was on the court.

George has never been a leader. His last year in Indy he threw his teammates under the bus in a postgame rant about getting him the ball. The problem with his rant was it would have been appropriate if George had won anything in his career. But his proudest moments were two series against LeBron James that he lost. Paul George relishes in moral victories, which is fine. Except Los Angeles relishes real victories and champion grit and talent.

NBA history is filled with playoff blunders. Nick Anderson’s missed free throws for the Magic. Kobe Bryant’s airballs at Utah when he was 18 years old. Dwight Howard’s missed free throws in the closing second of a Finals game the Magic needed to tie the series. LeBron’s paralysis against the Mavs. It’s one moment. But the problem for George is he doesn’t have dominant “other” moments to balance out a professional humiliation social media celebrates.

Paul George isn’t the Clippers best player but the amount of attention he receives makes the case that he is. Because Kawhi Leonard is mostly silent, and because Paul George lacks accountability for his own flaws, he will continue to be the center of the Lakers ire and the answer to a riddle. Who is overrated and doesn’t know it?

Paul George.

The Clippers have never been to a conference final while the Lakers have been to 40 of them. The Clips history just doesn’t compare. Star players, therefore, have to put their head down and just play. No talking. No flexing. No excuses and the blame game. Just play.

It was assumed that George’s value for the Clippers was once the playoffs started. He was supposed to spread the floor, drive to the rim, and with Pat Beverly as a tag team partner in the backcourt dominate on defense. George was supposed to be an important addition to Leonard.

The Clippers needed two superstars 81 days ago, in Game 7. The problem is they only had one. His name was Kawhi Leonard.