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Paul George suffers late leg injury, Clippers can’t get final shot in loss to Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey is defended by Clippers forward Paul George.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey is defended by Clippers forward Paul George during the first half on Tuesday at Crypto.com Arena.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)
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The back hallway inside Crypto.com Arena connecting the home and visiting locker rooms is often a lively place as staffers line up for the postgame food and players exchange high-fives with executives on their way out of the building.

By 10 p.m. Tuesday it was at its most silent of the season, as the Clippers wondered whether they had lost more than a game critical for their postseason seeding.

Half an hour earlier, with 4 minutes 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, All-Star forward Paul George’s right knee buckled and bent backward as he landed after grabbing a rebound against Oklahoma City’s Luguentz Dort.

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George fell to the court and stayed there for minutes as teammates surrounded him while medical staffers knelt over him. He left the court without putting weight on the leg, one staff member under each shoulder helping carry him toward the locker room.

Before coach Tyronn Lue met with reporters after a 101-100 loss, he huddled with team executives in the hallway outside the locker room. George still was being reevaluated, Lue said. George was driven out of the arena on the back of a cart, his right leg extended.

If George, who dealt with discomfort in his right knee this season but earlier this month declared himself as healthy as ever, misses time, then the Clippers’ postseason ambitions might need to be reevaluated, as well, a star of George’s caliber difficult to replace, even on one of the NBA’s deepest rosters. He averaged 28.3 points, six rebounds and five assists in his previous seven games entering Tuesday, a run that coincided with a 5-2 record.

“Next man up,” star forward Kawhi Leonard said.

Kawhi Leonard says it’s hard to quantify why he believes the Clippers could be a great team. “It’s just about you knowing that everybody’s on the same page.”

The Clippers were dealt another blow on the final possession when Leonard grabbed a defensive rebound with 21 seconds left and dribbled upcourt with the Thunder ahead by one.

Leonard couldn’t dribble past the stout defense of Dort, the ball never leaving Leonard’s hands as he struggled to find space. His attempted go-ahead shot was released after the final buzzer, and Leonard pleaded for a foul.

“They shrunk the floor,” Leonard said. “It’s another explanation of us just not opening up the floor for one another. … I’ll take ownership of it. I definitely should have got a shot off.”

Leonard finished with 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, George 18 points with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins (21) during the first half on Tuesday at Crypto.com Arena.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

The Clippers are 38-35, one game behind fourth-place Phoenix, and Oklahoma City is 36-36, in seventh, 1½ games behind the Clippers after beating them for the third time in as many tries.

Four years after the Clippers traded away Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to facilitate the deal for George that also netted Leonard’s free-agency signature, Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points to lead the Thunder.

The Clippers’ start indicated they understood the importance of the game. A team that often has found itself playing from behind while adjusting to three new rotation players — the Clippers own a negative net rating during first quarters since the All-Star break — seized control through sheer force. Within four minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander’s dribble had been ripped away three times by the men on the other side of the trade, George and Leonard, the last turnover leading to a thunderous dunk by Russell Westbrook, who a decade ago originated the role of All-Star Thunder point guard.

The burst of defensive energy provided an 18-4 lead. And when it disappeared, and the Clippers missed 11 consecutive shots, Oklahoma City answered with a 19-4 run.

Paul George scored 29 points and Kawhi Leonard had 24 points as the Clippers overcome Tyronn Lue’s absence in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

By halftime, the Clippers were down by five and one key player.

Amid a brutal shooting display — in which Clippers starters failed to make a three-pointer in the first half, Leonard and George combined to make five of 16 shots and the team missed eight of 15 free throws — the Clippers also suffered the loss of Terance Mann. The backup guard was ejected 4:24 before the half by official Curtis Blair after a pair of rapid-fire technical fouls.

According to the official, Mann directed profanity at him, upset that a Leonard drive and score had not earned a foul call — Leonard, who also got a technical, said the official later apologized — but the technicals were issued in such quick succession that his teammates were left wide-eyed as Mann headed toward the tunnel and the locker room, his night done after eight points in 11 minutes.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s league-leading 1,451 drives this season had generated a league-high 338 free-throw attempts, and after his early drives had gone nowhere against the aggressive defense of Leonard and George, he began to solve their defensive puzzles with 12 points in the third quarter — including five baskets inside the paint.

The highlight, which helped the Clippers lead by one entering the fourth, quickly was superseded by concern over George’s departure.

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