Fresh off playing arguably the best game of his career, in the most important game in the history of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise, Paul George said something that stuck with me. The seven-time All-Star was asked if he receives more criticism than his NBA superstar peers and he kept it a buck.
“I do. And it’s the honest truth,” he told reporters. “ It’s a fact. But I can’t worry about that. It comes with the job, I guess.”
He might be right.
On Monday night, the Palmdale, Calif., native put on a virtuoso performance in a must-win elimination game against the Phoenix Suns. With everything the Clippers’ have worked towards this season on the line, and Kawhi Leonard, Ivica Zubac, and Serge Ibaka all MIA with injuries, George put up a playoff career-high 41 points and carried his team to a 116-102 victory. Twenty of those came in the third quarter alone after the Clippers squandered an early 13-point lead, and he also shot 10-of-12 from the floor in the second half.
Oh, and his career night also included 13 boards and six assists.
And while last night’s performance was otherworldly, he’s been bringing it every night throughout the postseason—literally. He’s scored 20 or more points in every single playoff game this year, an astounding feat with a historical precedent that only includes the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant; each of whom made it to the finals after accomplishing the same thing.
Simply put, this nigga is ballin’. And while teammate Reggie Jackson has filled in admirably in light of Kawhi’s extended absence, George has been primarily doing this dirt all by his lonely. Hell, had he not missed those free throws at the end of Game 2 (and earned the nickname “Wayoff P” in the process) they’d be up in this series 3-2. But while George insists that he’s held to a different standard than his peers, he’s also provided his detractors with plenty of ammunition. Superstars are paid big money to show up when it matters most, especially during the playoffs, and 31-year-old George has had more than his fair share of ill-timed shortcomings.
Christening himself “Playoff P” has invited unnecessary scrutiny that has haunted him ever since he first uttered that moniker in 2018 to a small room of reporters: “Y’all ain’t met Playoff P yet, huh?”
In the time since, he’s been torched by Dame Lillard in the 2019 NBA Playoffs, experienced some well-documented mental health struggles that caused him to play like absolute dog shit in The Bubble, was a key contributor to the Temecula Clippers’ epic collapse against the Denver Nuggets in last season’s Western Conference Semifinals, and missed clutch free throws in two separate games against the Suns in this year’s Western Conference Semifinals. He’s also been averse to accepting both responsibility or blame for his own shortcomings, as evidenced by his decision to throw Doc Rivers completely under the bus after last season’s implosion. So yes, while George doesn’t always get his due for his consistent, outstanding play, his fuckups almost always come at the most inopportune times.
Thankfully, his teammates appreciate his contributions on the court and believe in his ability to lead their team—with or without Kawhi, whose presence would nearly guarantee an NBA Finals berth.
“I don’t know where this trolling bullshit has come from,” teammate Demarcus Cousins told reporters Monday night. “The internet controls the narrative about these players. It’s become foolish, man. That’s one of the most special players to ever lace his shoes up. Give this dude his flowers, man.”
The best way George can prove his detractors wrong is to lead this team to the promised land. That means not only continuing to play at a high level but closing out games when it matters most.