Clippers’ Paul George puts on a show against Lakers to get bit of redemption
No Clipper left the NBA bubble near Orlando, Fla., last fall more maligned than Paul George, the star forward who saw his season reduced to a single GIF of his three-pointer hitting the side of the backboard in a Game 7 collapse against Denver.
The lowlight looped across social media so often, even months after the Clippers’ second-round exit, that it became internet shorthand for the team’s inability to meet the moment and George’s struggle to carry a superstar burden on surgically repaired shoulders.
During a podcast appearance before training camp opened, George acknowledged hearing the derision surrounding his postseason performances — a lack of production even he later described as “unacceptable.” But after an offseason of training on healthier shoulders, he vowed to be better.
The Lakers departed Staples Center late Tuesday night carrying championship rings in jewel boxes, diamond-encrusted reminders of last season’s triumph. But no one left the arena happier to leave last season behind than George, whose 33 points blunted a Lakers comeback during a flurry of second-half shot-making.
With a mix of layups, three-pointers and mid-range jumpers, George reeled off 10 consecutive points during the final two minutes of the third quarter to push the Clippers’ lead to 11 entering the fourth quarter, and his 26 points after halftime were central to a 116-109 Clippers victory.
“I just played basketball, simple as that,” George said. “I applied the work that I put in this offseason. It’s not going to be pretty every night but tonight I got it going.”
The Clippers spoil the Lakers’ pregame ring celebration with 116-109 win on NBA opening night.
Coach Tyronn Lue said the outing was a reminder of something easily forgotten amid George’s inconsistency last season. “That he’s unstoppable,” Lue said.
George’s night was not only a rejoinder for his own past disappointment but helped his team avoid a repeat of the unraveling that defined last season’s failures, when the Clippers allowed double-digit leads to disappear in their final three losses of the playoffs.
A dunk by center Ivica Zubac extended the Clippers’ lead to 22 points with 1:57 remaining in the first quarter. But trouble lurked. On their next three possessions, the Clippers turned the ball over, including passes into thin air, out of bounds and intended for a receiver who wasn’t standing there. It was an inauspicious end to a brilliant first quarter in which the Clippers played fast and physical en route to 11 fastbreak points.
Over the final 14 minutes of the first half, the Clippers made seven of their 25 shots, committed six turnovers and ended possessions with offensive fouls two other times. Starting guard Patrick Beverley was also whistled for three fouls in a four-minute span, an echo of the foul trouble that bound him to the bench for much of the postseason. The Clippers screeched into halftime grasping onto a deja-vu-inducing two-point lead.
“We just told [George] to be aggressive in the second half,” Lue said. “First half he was trying to get guys involved.”
Said George: “[Lue] allowed me to play, make mistakes, continue to play. My job is just to go out there and produce and play my hardest.”
After George checked into the third quarter for Kawhi Leonard with 2:27 remaining, with the Clippers still clinging to a two point lead, he made a layup, a free throw, a five-footer, a deep three-pointer and a mid-range shot during the next two minutes. He personally outscored the Lakers 10-2 during the stretch.
Then he opened the fourth quarter with another basket, a jumper from 17 feet.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the Clippers was also one that could be read as troubling. George dominated offensively in the second half despite attempting only two free throws.
“We ran our offense and that’s what I take pride in tonight, that everybody had each other’s back and stayed positive and kept communicating on the floor and pushed out a win,” said Leonard, who scored 26 points on 26 shots, making one of his eight three-pointers. “[George] got to his spots, was taking his time, found his rhythm, kept pushing it from there.
“Him making those shots helped us but the big thing is that once the Lakers started scoring ... we stayed positive and started making shots and that led to Paul getting in a rhythm on the offensive end.”
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