Paul George’s New Normal

The Paul George reformation project began on September 16, 2020, the day after the Clippers public catastrophe in the bubble. While the blame was equally divided among thieves, Paul George carried the brunt of the criticism. Unlike Doc Rivers and Kawhi Leonard, George didn’t have a title to lean on as an excuse. He has never appeared in a Finals. So when his 4th quarter shot hit the side of the backboard and Paul George dismissed it postgame as ordinary instead of admitting he failed to manage the pressure, it led Paul George here. All season, he has had to disprove a negative, that he is worth what the Clippers paid him, that he is a legitimate number two.

At the age of 31, George has led a lot of lives. He was romanced after seemingly coming out of nowhere to nearly steal an Eastern Conference title from LeBron James. He suffered a horrible injury; the injury was televised and gruesome. He came back but then demanded to be traded. He was involved in a social media scandal with Doc Rivers daughter (Google it if you like gossip). He openly coveted the Lakers only to rebuke them as a free agent. Then he was chosen by Kawhi Leonard to be his 1A.

In 2021, Paul George has put together his normal playoff resume. He’s had some games in which his shot and his defense have disappeared. And he has been brilliant. The Clippers need Paul George to be Paul George in important moments. He may never give them the consistency of a LeBron or Kawhi because he’s not them. He’s not a top-10 player.

Paul George, Playoffs Points Averaged 3-Point% Rebounds Averaged The Best Of PG The Worst of PG
2019-20 20.2 33.3% 6.0 35 points, 3 rebounds, +23 Game 5, Mavericks (W) 10 points, 4 rebounds, -20 Game 7, Nuggets (L)
2020-21 25.9 35.8% 9.2 20 points, 9 rebounds, +19 Game 4, Mavericks (W) 23 points, 6 rebounds, -6 Game 1, Mavericks (L)

The Clippers have point guard issues. Pat Beverly is a defensive point who can make an open shot but isn’t much of a threat. Rajon Rondo has yet to be Playoff Rondo. Reggie Jackson has found a new career by draining 51% of his threes against Utah when many thought Jackson was washed up.

George isn’t a natural creator. He can do it in spots. George is at his best when he is driving or when he is a finisher.

Paul George & the Clippers Points Scored Points Allowed Pace Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
2019-20 116.3 (4th) 109.9 (13th) 101.5 (8th) 113.9 (2nd) 107.6 (5th)
2020-21 114.0 (10th) 107.8 (4th) 96.9 (28th) 117.6 (4th) 111.2 (8th)

So much of what happens to athletes is based on the slippery slope of luck. Had George not broken his leg he still may be in Indiana. But George did break his leg and it ruined the season and it set the stage for a failed revival. He pushed his way out the door and played with Russell Westbrook and then Kawhi came calling. Kawhi may now be on the shelf for a while. It is Paul George’s turn.

Injuries have changed the Clippers future, one in which Paul George has to do just about everything. Score. Rebound. Defend. Move the ball. Organize the offense. Drop 40 points.  No NBA team can survive with just one great player on an island. Despite a great night in Utah, Paul George can’t do it by himself.

Point guard help is a necessity. By committee.  Or George. He and the Clippers are this close to history. They have never been in a conference final and now Paul George is their north star. The man who was ridiculed a year ago and called a choker, and called overpaid, and called trash has the Clippers on the precipice.  A year makes a difference.

But regardless of how close the Clippers are, Paul George hasn’t changed. He was a lottery pick a long time ago, a steal at number 10 who wanted to go forward into greatness, not backward into mediocrity. But can he repeat his Utah heroics for one more game and catapult the Clippers in territory that is strange to them, a conference final?

The world is watching, expecting Paul George to gag. If he doesn’t, it will be Paul George who has the last word.