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Paul George busts out of playoff funk as Clippers score 154 points to rout Mavericks

Dallas' Tim Hardaway Jr. covers the Clippers' Paul George.
Paul George scored 35 points in 25 minutes against Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dallas.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

It was late Sunday night when Paul George visited his coach’s room to talk.

Less than two weeks earlier, George had described the NBA’s campus at Disney World like a dream theme park not for children, but basketball junkies. No distractions. Gyms open late for shooting. Just basketball.

By Sunday evening, it felt like a haunted house, with every corner hiding a new fright. Pilloried on social media after shooting a combined 21% in his last three games, and watching his Clippers team’s postseason momentum stall as Dallas evened its first-round series, George said he entered a “dark place.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers and George talked in Rivers’ room, though little about basketball. George was rarely alone until tipoff for the next two days. Teammates began checking in, by text or dropping by his room. They put a controller in his hands, a new “Madden” video game on the TV and said the same thing they had for days: Just play.

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“We’re in a bubble,” center Montrezl Harrell said. “… It’s nobody but you and your thoughts. So we just kind of wanted to get him out of that. Get him out of the room, play video games and constantly be around him to show him that we here with him.”

In a 154-111 Clippers victory Tuesday to push their series lead to 3-2, George responded with a performance that looked straight out of a video game. He scored 35 points, making 12 of 18 shots and four of eight three-pointers. Since the shot clock was introduced in 1954, George is the first player to score at least 35 points in less than 25 minutes during the playoffs.

“I underestimated mental health, honestly,” George said. “I had anxiety, a little bit of depression, just being locked in here. I just wasn’t there; I checked out. It was Games 2, 3, 4, I wasn’t there. I felt like I wasn’t there. Everybody reached out whether it was in person or text, all of my guys showed up for me. They helped me. They were there when I needed them.”

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Before tipoff, tweets from fans offering support for George filled video boards ringing the court. But after seeing Dallas star Luka Doncic tie the series with a classic performance Sunday, the atmosphere surrounding the Clippers was summed up by another tweet: “Nerves on a trillion right now.”

The Clippers quickly took care of that.

A 24-2 run, behind 81% shooting, bolstered a 33-18 lead in the first quarter, with George shooting five times on the Clippers’ first 10 possessions, including three baskets. Teammate Kawhi Leonard made his first six shots and finished with 32 points.

The Clippers set franchise playoff records with 63% shooting and 22 three-pointers (on 62% shooting), and their 154 points are the third-most scored in playoff history.

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Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo claimed his first piece of hardware this season, winning the league’s defensive player of the year award.

After a 23-point lead was cut to 16 late in the second quarter, the Clippers’ shrinking advantage was reminiscent of their lost opportunity in Game 4, when a 21-point lead vanished.

When challenged Tuesday, they came out of a timeout strong, not shaken, scoring the next 11 points. As the Clippers’ lead built, so did the Mavericks’ frustration. Doncic’s charged banter with officials led to a technical foul two minutes before halftime.

After scoring on a lob at the rim and a three-pointer to open the third quarter, George spun toward the basket but was raked across the face by the right hand of Tim Hardaway Jr. before he could take a shot. George quickly turned to confront Hardaway, who was assessed a flagrant-1 foul, and was held back.

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Already without center Kristaps Porzingis, who missed his second game because of a sore right knee, Dallas lost coach Rick Carlisle to ejection midway through the third quarter.

Instead of taking over, Doncic could only watch from the bench as the Clippers set a franchise record with a 43-point victory. Doncic finished with 22 points but made one of six threes and was limited by sideline traps that forced the ball out of his hands.

“He went out and played carefree basketball and that’s the best PG that we could ever have,” said Harrell, who scored 19 points with 11 rebounds. “We don’t ever want him inside his head because he’s already a great player. A lot of people are talking about him ... but he responded.”

Three observations:

1. The Mavericks are hopeful Porzingis can play in Game 6, and the Clippers feel the same about guard Patrick Beverley (left calf), who missed his fourth straight game. “My guess is he’s getting closer,” coach Doc Rivers said, “but I can’t tell you how close.”

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2. Rivers has often resisted calling timeouts amid Dallas runs, preferring his team play through them. He changed tactics in the second quarter when the Clippers’ 23-point lead was trimmed to 16. Los Angeles responded by scoring 11 unanswered points.

3. Usually propelled by their bench, the Clippers took control despite a quiet offensive night from reserves. They finished with 55 points but most were added after the game was decided.

Greif reported from Los Angeles.


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