The moment called for Paul George to dig down mentally when the game hung in the balance, for the Clippers forward to shake off a turnover when the score was tied late in the game and for him to forget about his foul that led to his team trailing an Oklahoma City Thunder that was putting up a fight to the end.
The moment proved not to be too big for George.
He stepped into the void and delivered a game-breaking three-pointer with 25.9 seconds left, giving the Clippers a lead they never lost that propelled them to a 90-88 win over his former team.
“I’m confident in whatever shot I take, whether I make or miss,” George said late Monday night at Staples Center after playing in just his third game of the season, having missed the first 11 recovering from surgery on both shoulders.
“It’s part of the game, and I don’t care if I haven’t made one. There was a big thing about, ‘He can’t make it to win the games.’ That stuff doesn’t bother me. I’m out there to play hard and I’m out there to win games. I feel confident in every shot I take. It’s up to me to make it or miss it, so again, that type of stuff doesn’t bother me.”
George completed his night by grabbing the final rebound of the game and then making one of two free throws with 0.3 seconds remaining.
He finished with 18 points on seven-for-14 shooting, three-for-seven on three-pointers. He also had seven rebounds and four assists.
But George also turned the ball over seven times, the big one coming with the scored tied at 86-86 with 36.2 seconds left in the game.
A few seconds later, George fouled Chris Paul, the former Clippers point guard who made both free throws for a two-point Thunder lead and who was defending Paul when he lost control of the basketball with the game on the line.
“It’s tough, because again, I’m still getting used to this fast pace, this style,” George said. “And again, I haven’t had practice time. So a lot of this pressure and on-ball stuff I’m still working on of using my dribble, timing my dribble, using my steps, my footwork. All of that is in process and still trying to work through. But it’s good. It’s good I’m seeing all types of defenders, from small guards to guys at my position. It’s great for me early on because I’m only going to get better with it. I’m only going to figure out my timing. It’s good I’m seeing all this tonight.”
George refused to let those moments define his night.
Instead, he stepped up in the clutch by coming off a screen set by Montrezl Harrell and accepting a pass from Lou Williams, and knocking down a 27-foot jumper for an 89-88 Clippers lead that stood.
“I’m out there with a lot of great scorers and if I can do anything I can to get these guys as open as possible that’s what I’m going to do,” Harrell said. “Coach [Doc Rivers] drew up a great play for us to get a three, even though we didn’t really need one at that point and time. But it was a big-time shot by Paul George because he’s been in these moments plenty of times.”
“Yeah, that play was designed for me to get free-up,” George said. “It was kind of a miss-direction to draw attention to Lou and JaMychael [Green] and then Trez [Montrezl] coming to [screen] me up on the other side.”
Though he spent only two seasons with the Thunder before he was traded to the Clippers last July to form a dynamic duo with Kawhi Leonard, George relished the moment to face and defeat Oklahoma City.
“It was fun. It was fun,” George said. “Again, it’s any other game. But it was fun just to see familiar faces, share some laughs and just have good competition. It was just great competition all across the board.”
Thibodeau spending time with Clippers
Former Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau has been a presence around the Clippers in recent days, with coach Doc Rivers calling his former assistant in Boston “a guy who just sits back and listens and if he hears something that he wants to add in, he does.”
“During practices he doesn’t say anything, he just waits and then after practice, we’ll talk and he’ll tell me what he saw,” Rivers added. “It’s great to have around.”
Throughout his career Rivers has made a habit of seeking insight from out-of-work coaches with whom he is close, from Flip Saunders in Boston to Tyronn Lue last season. Lue had assisted Rivers with the Clippers before winning a championship with Cleveland in 2016, but after his firing by the Cavaliers in 2018, Lue became a sounding board for Rivers. He later joined the Clippers’ staff in an official role as an assistant in August.
Thibodeau has attended each of the team’s last two shoot-arounds and coaches’ meetings.
“He’s sat in a couple of ‘load management’ meetings, which I thought it would be good for him to hear all the lingo and the talk,” Rivers said. “He loved it.”
Staff writer Andrew Greif contributed to this story.
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday
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Update: Boston (11-2) had won 10 consecutive games before losing Sunday in Sacramento, but rebounded to beat Phoenix the next night by 14. The Celtics rank among the league’s top six teams in booth offensive and defensive rating and no team commits fewer turnovers (12.4 per game). Kemba Walker has averaged a team-leading 23.4 points a game, Jayson Tatum has added 20.2 and Jaylen Brown 19.5. Gordon Hayward is out at least five more weeks with a broken bone in his left hand.