Chris Paul and Paul George have some things in common. Both were lottery picks selected five years apart, though George didn’t play for a power conference. Both were the best player on the team that drafted them. Both were supposed to have success by now; success defined as a trip to the NBA Finals. But their resumes are littered with chokes, bad luck, injuries, and fate.
Paul George made his first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013. It was his third year and at the time it was thought that George had arrived. The pressure-soaked conference final stage would be his for years to come. In 2013, George was facing a 66-win behemoth. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade were defending champions. Because the Pacers won the season series, Miami didn’t intimidate them.
While Paul George flew with his teammates to Miami in late May to prepare for a date with LeBron James, Chris Paul was at home in Los Angeles. The Clippers had just been pulverized by Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. The playoffs had started well enough for Paul. The Clippers won their first two home games and Paul averaged 23 points and 8 assists. But then the Clippers lost four in a row. It was the Chris Paul perpetual nightmare. Three years of point-Goding the Clippers and the mediocre results were an indictment. The Clippers were 6-11 in the playoffs with Chris Paul.
Currently, Paul George has a reputation of not showing up in the playoffs, of being a regular-season-only player. But in 2013, he was the new kid on the block. His potential was sky high, so was his ceiling. In Game 1 vs. the Heat, George played 46 minutes and had 27 points but the team lost. The next game, he had 22 points, posted a +17 and the Pacers had a split. The teams split both games in Indiana with George doing less. 12 points one night. 13 points the next. With the series tied, Game 5 was in Miami. George played 44 minutes and was extraordinary. 27 points, 11 rebounds, 62% from three. The Pacers lost but the next game in Indiana, George had 28 points and 8 rebounds, 60% from three. The Pacers won big, leading to Game 7.
For the Pacers to win Game 7, Paul George had to show up. The Paul George who was a lottery pick. The Paul George who people thought of as Kevin Durant-lite. The Paul George who was a matchup nightmare. That Paul George would have been epic. What we got though was 7 points Paul George. He missed 7 out of his 9 shots. His 9 shots were the second-fewest attempts in his 2013 playoff run. The Pacers were run out of the building, losing by 23.
Chris Paul and Paul George are from North Carolina and California, respectively. They were trained in vastly different college programs and found NBA success early in their careers. Both were All-Stars in their third year. Both were disgruntled with the teams that drafted them and demanded to be traded. George has played for 3 teams. Paul has played for 5 teams. Both have had injuries at the worst possible moment. Both have had playoff choke jobs.
Paul’s playoff average is what you would expect. 21 points and 8 assists, higher than his regular-season average of 18 points and 9 assists. George’s numbers are similar. In the playoffs, 20 points and 7 rebounds. 20 points and 6 rebounds in the regular season. Despite the narrative, Paul George is very consistent.
So why can’t they succeed in the postseason, particularly since they have played with great players?
Why did Chris Paul turn the ball over twice in the final 17 seconds against OKC? Why did his hamstring decide to act up in Game 7 against the Warriors? How on earth did he give up a 3-1 lead to the Rockets and lose the series, particularly when he was so desperate to make it to a Conference Final.
Why does Paul George play this ying and yang game in the playoffs. 20 points here. 29 points, there. Then 12 points. 16 points. 14 points. That 4th quarter ball hitting the side of the backboard was a thing of legends. Is it just bad luck?
Chris Paul and Paul George were both almost Lakers. David Stern prevented Paul from the purple and gold, and George snubbed the Lakers in free agency. Laker fans like to think it has something to do with karma, why they can’t earn a trip to the Finals. But it has to do with the playoffs themselves. So much has to go right.
The law of averages has to work in their favor at some point. They may just end up in the WCF facing each other. The Lakers have chemistry issues and the injuries late in the season diminish their chance at repeating. That and the Lakers offensive woes, their love affair with turning the ball over, and abysmal shooting, and losing 7 out of their last 10 games. Utah is a serious player but depending on the seeding, Paul and George may face off. Win 4 to get to the NBA Finals.
Chris Paul is 37 years old. What he has done for Phoenix is spectacular. He has organized the offense, changed the culture, been everything a leader is supposed to be. He has stayed healthy and is in the MVP conversation. Paul George has had a nice rebound from that disaster in the bubble. The 31-year-old is having career highs in shooting, assists, and offensive rating.
The Western Conference will be the most difficult postseason tournament in a decade, or longer. It’s going to be tough for everyone. But the pressure is on Chris Paul and Paul George to rewrite the narrative. Reverse history. Stay healthy. Be excellent.
Chris Paul and Paul George must win their first two playoff series. No excuses.