Chris Paul and Paul George Had a Lot to Prove

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 collegiate power conference. Both were the best player on the team that drafted them and both forced a trade. Both were All-Stars early in their careers. It was inevitable then when they met in the Western Conference Finals that one man was going to be hero. And the other man would add one more disappointment to the pile.

Paul George made his first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013. It was his third year and and 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 then mediocre results. The Clippers were 6-11 in the playoffs with Chris Paul.

Before the 2020 playoffs, Paul George had a reputation of inconsistency, particularly in games that mattered. He played a Game 7 against the Miami Heat and did this: he missed 7 out of 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.

Playoff P? Not really.

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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’s numbers you can pencil in.

When he was with the Clippers 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 the Clipers can’t earn a trip to the Finals.  But it has to do with the playoffs themselves. So much has to go right.

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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 in spurts and was in the MVP conversation.

Paul George has had a nice rebound from that disaster in the bubble. The 31-year-old had career highs in shooting, assists, and offensive rating.

It was appropriate that Paul and George met in the Western Conference Finals. Someone was going to the NBA Finals for the first time in their career. The betting money was on Paul. He was the best player, the leader, the organizer. His demanding brand of leadership was welcomed in Phoenix, revered by his younger teammates. George had a tougher road, a fill-in for Kawhi. He was asked to be Indiana Paul George, to be everything. But George doesn’t have back-to-back great games.

When George scored 41 points in Game 5, a scintillating performance, the expectations rose for Game 6, that George would have a repeat performance like Kawhi would have had but Paul George is not the Clippers best player. Paul George’s Game 6 was predictable. He appeared tired and couldn’t up his game one more level to stave off elimination.

Chris Paul though was everything Paul George was not. Paul refused to lose, his maniacal will on display. Paul had something in his bag that George did not. Paul was motivated by history; his well-documented failures, near misses, and blown opportunities. He wasn’t going to be denied.

At the end, it was a meek performance by Los Angeles as Paul reminded everyone of who he used to be, and George reminded everyone who he is. Good. But not good enough.