Something was wrong with Paul George.
Yes, his season has been marred by injuries, and we’re still not entirely convinced he’s fully adapted to his new team, but entering the playoffs, the Clippers were supposed to be a juggernaut. Thanks to his poor play, his team was anything but.
But after blossoming demigod Luka Doncic tore the Clippers a new asshole in Game 4 to tie the series 2-2, George mustered the courage to admit what everyone was already thinking.
“If I make shots, this series could be a little different,” he said. “And that’s obvious, of course. That’s what it just comes down to.”
This begged the question: Which George would the Clippers get in Game 5? “Playoff P,” the gladiator that vanquishes opponent after opponent with ease; or “Pandemic P,” the second coming of Smush Parker, who shoots about as well as an ornery teenager at a toilet bowl?
It took all of about two minutes to get our answer, as the 30-year-old knocked down jumper after jumper, attacked the basket at will—it ain’t the sexiest euro step, but it works—and played relentless defense on the opposite end of the floor. And by the time the dust settled, the Clippers emerged victorious over the Mavericks in a 43-point drubbing that was about as competitive as that Scott Storch-Mannie Fresh Verzuz battle.
But most importantly, PG13 resurrected from the dead to drop 35 points in only 25 minutes of play, giving NBA Twitter plenty to talk about.
And after the game, George had plenty to talk about as well. He revealed that his historic shooting struggles—he’s the first player to shoot under 25 percent in three straight playoff games since Bob Cousy in 1960—were a byproduct of battling depression and anxiety inside of the NBA bubble.
“I underestimated mental health, honestly,” the six-time All-Star told reporters. “I had anxiety. A little bit of depression. Just being locked in here. I just wasn’t there. I checked out.
“Games 2, 3, 4, I wasn’t there. I felt like I wasn’t there. Shout-out to the people that were in my corner, that gave me words. They helped big time, helped get me right, [get] me back in great spirits. I can’t thank them enough.”
What’s often lost in the excitement of the NBA restart is the tremendous sacrifice that each of these players is making by being separated for months at a time from their loved ones and everyday lives at home. Reading to their kids before bed, game nights with friends and family in their man caves, the peace and tranquility that comes from cutting the grass; these guys are missing a lot.
“I mean, I felt it just [at] the start [on Tuesday],” George said. “Talks with a psychiatrist, our team psychiatrist. I mean, I just felt it. My energy, my spirit was changed. That’s all it needed. That’s all I needed. I came here, I knew what my job was. Left it all on that court. Ready to move forward.”
His team also made it a point to be more proactive in helping him get out of his funk.
“This is not a normal environment, OK?” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “PG and I sat in my room after [Game 4]. We just had a long talk, not all about basketball, really. Several players did it. Guys were knocking on his door.”
“We just wanted to get him out of that,” teammate Montrezl Harrell said. “Get him out of his room, just play video games, just constantly be around him to show him that we’re here with him. I think that did a great job for him because he went out and played carefree basketball.”
Clearly being loved on by his teammates and confronting his issues with a psychiatrist helped, as George explained he had been unable to turn off “basketball mode.”
“This is really hard being in here. It’s not easy. All day, it’s just basketball. It’s hard to get away from it,” George said. “You see guys on other teams. Shout-out to the NBA for creating this environment, but at the same time, it’s rough. I just got to find what’s going to get me able to check out of the game and check out of just constantly being in that mode.”
As we reported here at The Root, the NBA will ease its restrictions after the first round of the playoffs and allow players to bring as many as four guests inside of the bubble.
“All my guys helped,” George said. “Great talk with Doc. Again, all my family were there. My girl, Gracie, my kids, just so many people that I can name that I’ve talked to in the past 24 hours that had a helping hand in just getting me into a better spirit again.”
Game 6 of the Clippers-Mavericks first-round series is scheduled for Thursday.