Clippers vs. Jazz: Paul George continues to shed unfair ‘Pandemic P’ label with brilliant Game 3 performance

Pandemic P. Way-off P. Layoff P. We’ve all guilty of giving a hearty chortle at the disparaging nicknames that inevitably pop up on NBA Twitter any time Paul George is suffering through a rough stretch during a playoff game.

The sullied reputation is largely undeserved for a guy averaging more than 20 points per game over the course of his postseason career, but a rough performance in Game 7 of the Clippers’ epic collapse against the Denver Nuggets last year in the bubble — including a shot off the side of the backboard heard ’round the world — unfairly labeled George a choke artist.

So there’s got to be an extra morsel of satisfaction for George when he puts on a show like he did in the Los Angeles Clippers’ 132-106 Game 3 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday, which saved them from an 0-3 series hole and the incessant prattle that would have ensued. George was simply phenomenal, scoring 31 points on 6-for-10 3-point shooting while dishing out five assists and frequently looking like the best player on a court he shared with Kawhi Leonard and Donovan Mitchell.

George clearly came out with a scorer’s mentality, taking 24 shots — the most he’s ever attempted in a playoff game as a Clipper.

“I think I just shot my shots, you know, to get the shots I’m most comfortable with, and stuck with it,” George said after the win. “It’s just putting pressure, whether I’m shooting the ball, scoring or making plays. It’s just all about putting the pressure on the defense and just staying with an attack mentality all game.”

The best part of George’s performance, and the aspect that further contradicts his fallacious reputation for shrinking in big moments, is that George’s biggest plays in Game 3 came directly in response to adversity. Every time it looked like the Jazz were starting to gain momentum and the ghosts of Clippers playoff collapses past began creeping into the collective Staples Center consciousness, George applied a tourniquet to the bleeding before it became a hemorrhage.

When the Jazz cut the Clipper lead to two points early in the second quarter, George came right back with a layup and a 3-pointer to push the lead back to seven. Later in the quarter, he hit back-to-back dagger 3s, the second of which came from 32 feet away, to extend the lead to 16 and force a Utah timeout.

“I thought P.G. set the tone early. After that 8-0 run [by the Jazz to start the game], I thought he was decisive about what he wanted to do, you know, making plays for us, attacking or shooting the 3-point shot,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said after Game 3. “It was a great game for him tonight and we have to keep building off that.”

Late in the third quarter, the Jazz had chiseled a 16-point halftime deficit down to eight, when George came calling again. On a possession that was going absolutely nowhere, he raised up and swished a corner 3-pointer with Bojan Bogdanovic draped all over him. If he misses it, Utah has the chance to make it a two-possession game. Instead, the Clippers went up 11 and gave themselves some much-needed breathing room.

“When [George] gets going, I find some extra motivation. I think the whole team, we start riding his wave, we start riding his energy,” Clippers guard Reggie Jackson said after Game 3. “Once he got the flow going a little bit and got some shots going, his energy is electric and contagious. Once he gets going, we all feed off it and it makes the game easier for us.”  

In the fourth quarter, when Utah made its final push and cut the lead to 10 with just under nine minutes left, George made an incredible one-on-one move to get past Royce O’Neale, bumped into him to create space, then finished with a right-foot, right-hand scoop floater kissed with perfect touch off the top of the glass over Rudy Gobert, arguably the best rim protector in the NBA. The degree of difficulty on this shot is higher than the Scoville units on a Carolina Reaper.

Shots like this are worth far more than two points — they’re demoralizing. The Jazz did everything right defensively, and George was just better. Utah never got within 10 after that shot, and both teams had pulled their starters by the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

We’re conditioned to think that clutch shots only happen at the end of games. But the buckets that George made on Saturday, in the Clippers’ most important game of the season, were just as crucial as if they’d come in the final seconds. And that’s not even to mention the defensive work he did on Mitchell all game, and all series long.

With a few more performances like this in the coming weeks, George could put the whole “Pandemic P” nonsense behind him for good.

“Oh, we’re a different team,” Lue said when asked how George’s success affects the Clippers. “We know that. It’s been like that all season long. He’s been great. You know, he had one bad game, whatever, but people are going to have bad games. Biggest thing is defensively just taking the challenge with Donovan, with [Joe] Ingles with those guys closing out. Closing out, but also stopping penetration, and P.G. did a great job of that tonight.”

Published: 2021-06-13 04:56:16

Tags: #Clippers #Jazz #Paul #George #continues #shed #unfair #Pandemic #label #brilliant #Game #performance

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