Clippers' Paul George needs be grim reaper vs. Lakers in playoffs

Sporting News

The Clippers traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — possibly a future All-NBA player — and a host of unprotected draft picks to Oklahoma City this past summer so they could secure Paul George, a lockdown, versatile defender with a killer offensive game.

From afar, the deal has been a success. The Clippers are 43-20, and they will almost certainly be a top-four seed in the Western Conference.

But George's inconsistent play has quietly been a cause for concern — he entered Sunday having scored 15 or fewer points in four of his past seven appearances. He has 11 such outings this year; he had four last year. That made his scoring outburst in a losing effort against the Lakers on Sunday afternoon reassuring.

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George needs to replicate his nationally televised output against the Lakers come playoff time when he likely clashes against LeBron James and Anthony Davis with far more on the line. He was assertive driving to the bucket and efficient with his jumper, pouring in a game-high 31 points on 9-of-16 shooting. He also picked up three steals and a block. His effort helped the Clippers hang around in an eventual 112-103 defeat despite the supporting cast around George and Kawhi Leonard shooting an abysmal 30.7 percent from the field.

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The Clippers have received praise for improving their depth midseason relative to the Lakers. They've added Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson, while the Lakers brought in Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters. A marginal edge in bench production probably won't determine a heavyweight Western Conference finals meeting, though. It will instead be settled by the stars on each side.

At his best, George is the ideal fit for a team trying to unseat the kings of LA. He forms a destructive defensive duo with Leonard as capable of slowing down James as any team could be. He causes his own matchup problems at the other end.

The forward's all-around game clicked on Sunday in a way it hasn't often of late.

He pushed the ball into the paint and finished through contact.

He hit his open 3-pointers.

He was able to slice up defenders in one-on-one iso situations.

That the Lakers won despite George's big game could be viewed as worrisome for the Clippers.

But the Clippers should be relieved to see George turn out with a vintage performance in a marquee game, knowing how much they'll need him in their push for a championship. He was a dominant force against the first-place team in the West. He'll need to be lethal against his crosstown rival should they meet in a couple of months.

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