January 27, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

After confrontation, Paul George has the last word in Clippers’ win over Suns

Paul George’s ire wasn’t raised when Phoenix’s Cam Payne toppled over him with seven minutes to play Sunday. And it wasn’t because of the charged exchange that followed, either.

First there were words from Payne, defending himself as the Clippers star shot back, his face wrinkled in anger. Then Suns guard Devin Booker entered the fray, and he and George didn’t stop yelling at one another until teammates had forcibly moved the scorers away from one another inside Phoenix Suns Arena in an attempt for peace.

What set George off wasn’t about Sunday — not exactly, anyway.

It was that the tenor of what he heard during a 112-107 victory against Phoenix felt like a continuation of the four months that preceded the road win, amid an offseason in which George took careful notes as others discussed his failings from the previous postseason.

“And it’s the reason I came into this year focused,” George said. “I heard all the noise and I use all that noise for motivation.”

On Sunday, it was George who had the last word.

The forward scored a season-high 39 points and was clutch following the heated exchange to help the Clippers hold on to a narrow victory after leading by as many as 31 points. In the final five minutes, with the Clippers’ lead less than nine points, George scored five points and assisted on Nicolas Batum’s game-sealing three-pointer from the corner with 11 seconds remaining.

“Paul did his thing,” Clippers star Kawhi Leonard said. “He carried us tonight and that’s why he’s here.”

When Leonard left the game to rest late in the first quarter, it was George who sparked a 23-0 run during a four-minute span. One game after making six of 22 shots in a loss against Utah, George made six of his first eight against the Suns, who owned the NBA’s third-best defensive rating.

Booker, who scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, said that he couldn’t remember what was said between him and George, calling it “nothing, honestly.”

George sounded as though he remembered every word, though, just as he has held on to the comments that made him a trending topic, for all the wrong reasons, on social media during the Clippers’ second-round collapse in September.

“I was talking to the ref, [Chris Paul] jumped in and it escalated from there,” George said. “… There was never any altercation, there was always peace when I am on the floor but for whatever reason, there’s a lot of chirping and people just living in the past.

Highlights from the Clippers’ win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.

“Last year was last year. I’m in a new situation, I am in a different mind-set. Any of that hate stuff, you got to ask them. I don’t know where that’s coming from.”

Whatever was used for motivation thus far, the Clippers (5-2) won’t argue.

Through seven games George has averaged 25.1 points, making 49.2% of his three-pointers, while averaging 5.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists.

“I don’t talk, I play my game. For whatever reason, it’s dudes talking,” George said. “Never heard people talking, and it’s never been directed towards me but for some reason it’s a lot of mouth. And it’s fine. I got to play up to that. I’ll go through the fire. It’s fine. As long as we come out on top and we win and I am helping my team win. That’s all that matters. Save the rest, they can do what they want. I’m locked in.”

Phoenix’s defense had stifled the Clippers’ offense, not allowing a basket after George’s three-pointer with 3:11 to play pushed the lead to nine. Leonard missed four consecutive shots during the stretch, but when George finally got the ball in the final seconds on the right wing and drove, Batum knew the Suns’ defense would collapse and that his opportunity to shoot would be waiting.

“It’s been seven games and he’s been great — especially on clutch time,” said Batum, who scored 14 points and made four three-pointers. “We give him the ball and that situation to make plays for us and he does.”

George’s last play was desperately needed too, after the Clippers’ lead had dwindled to 20 at halftime and just one with 10:20 remaining.

Leonard was of little help offensively to stem the rally by the Suns (5-2). After making eight of 19 shots in Friday’s loss to Utah, Leonard struggled to generate offense anywhere but the free-throw line, where he made seven of 10 shots. He missed all three three-pointers, and in the fourth quarter, missed all six shots he took.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said he was unsure whether Leonard’s mask, which he has called uncomfortable, was affecting his shooting.

“I’ve never had to play with a mask before so I really don’t know what it feels like but I can see how it could be uncomfortable,” Lue said. “You’ve got to keep strapping it up, it can get foggy on you. I really don’t know. He was excited, just told the guys, way to step up for him tonight.

“We got a lot of good play, especially from PG.”