While his overall numbers were far from terrible, Paul George's performance in the 2019-20 playoffs was not what he or the Los Angeles Clippers envisioned when they paired him with Kawhi Leonard.
This postseason has provided an ample opportunity for atonement and George has mostly answered the call to push the Clippers into uncharted territory.
There are parts of the previous playoff campaign that clearly George would rather forget, namely his outings in Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. After scoring 27 points on 10-of-22 shooting in a series-opening victory, George averaged just 11.3 points on 10-of-47 shooting (21.3 percent) from the field, including 4 of 25 from 3-point range, in the next three games as Dallas knotted the series at two games apiece.
In the process, George made some unwanted history as he became the first player in NBA history to shoot under 25 percent from the floor in three consecutive playoff games since Bob Cousy in 1960 (minimum of 10 attempts in each game).
The former Fresno State product bounced back by scoring 35 points on 12-of-18 shooting in a Game 5 win against Dallas, but that is easily forgotten because the Clippers squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the semi-finals. George averaged 23.7 points on 46.5 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds in the first six games of that series, yet that was overshadowed by his dismal 10-point, 4-of-16 shooting display and five turnovers in a Game 7 loss.
This postseason did not get off to a great start for the Clippers, who lost the first two games at home to the Mavericks before George, Leonard and company rebounded to win the next two games in Dallas.
That series came down to Game 7 in Los Angeles and George had 22 points and 10 assists in a 126-111 victory. There were not eye-popping numbers in that first-round series for George, but he scored at least 20 points in each game, a trend he has continued in every postseason contest in 2020-21.
George's streak of 15 consecutive games with at least 20 points is the longest in the league this season, and only Kevin Durant (21 straight in 2018) has a longer such run since 2017-18.
George really elevated his play in the second-round win over the top-seeded Utah Jazz, averaging 29 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists in six games. After Los Angeles again found itself in an 0-2 hole, George delivered 31.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists while connecting on 15 of 34 from long range in the Clippers' run of four straight wins.
He may have had the best playoff game of his career in a pivotal Game 5 win on the road with Leonard sidelined due to a knee injury, tallying 37 points, 16 boards and five assists. It was the first-ever 35-15-5 postseason game by a Clipper and George joined Durant as the only two players this postseason to have at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a game.
George also became just the fourth player in franchise history with three straight 30-point playoff games, along with Bob McAdoo (9), Leonard (5) and Elton Brand (4). George's seven 30-point postseason games since joining the Clippers are tied with Blake Griffin for third most in franchise history, trailing McAdoo (14) and Leonard (12).
The Clippers advanced to the franchise's first-ever Western Conference Finals by overcoming a 25-point deficit in Game 6, the largest comeback by any team to clinch a series in the last 25 seasons. Teams were 2-265 in the 2020-21 regular season when trailing by 25 or more. With that comeback, Los Angeles became the first team to erase an 0-2 deficit twice in one postseason.
That's a hole the Clippers will have to climb out again after a wild 104-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 on Tuesday. George shook off a slow start to score 10 fourth-quarter points and finished with 26, but he missed two free throws with eight seconds left and the Suns capitalised, Deandre Ayton's final-second alley-oop dunk securing a stunning win. It was the franchise-record ninth straight victory in the playoffs for Phoenix, a team which is finding ways to win even without floor leader Chris Paul.
Back in LA on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/iSOPbE6Egm— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 23, 2021
It was an extremely disheartening loss for the Clippers, who overcame terrific games from Cameron Payne and Ayton to have a golden opportunity to steal a road win despite trailing most of the night.
George has done his part to keep the Clippers afloat in Leonard's absence, averaging 30 points in the first two games of this series. However, he is 20 for 49 from the field, did not make a 3-pointer in Game 2 until 2:41 remaining and those two missed free throws ended up proving to be extremely costly, especially coming from a career 85 per cent shooter from the line.
Fatigue certainly played a role for George, who has played at least 40 minutes three times in the past four games, including a 45-plus minute stint in Game 6 against the Jazz. Still, those misses could end up haunting George and the Clippers unless he and his teammates can render them meaningless going forward.
It would be foolish to think Los Angeles is not capable of still winning this series after it survived this scenario twice already. Still, overcoming the Suns will be a tall task since Leonard was still healthy when they lost the first two games to both Dallas and Utah.
While it is unclear if Leonard will return, Paul is expected to return from the league's health and safety protocols soon, perhaps as early as Game 3.