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What Paul George’s performances mean for Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers

LA’s second star is showing out when his team needs him most.

Paul George of the LA Clippers looks on during the game against the Utah Jazz during Round 2, Game 5 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 16, 2021 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Paul George was feeling the pressure, even if he won’t admit to it.

The star forward had come off another dismal performance, going 5-15 from the floor as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 in the first round. George found other ways to contribute with 10 assists and three steals, but his continued struggles shooting the ball were a concern. After all, George was supposed to the second star for the Clippers with Kawhi Leonard leading the way.

George shot 46.2 percent during the Dallas series, but was 11-30 over two elimination games. For someone who apparently nicknamed himself “Playoff P”, that’s not very good. George’s struggles continued in the second round against the Utah Jazz, going 12-35 in Games 1 and 2.

With the Clippers down 2-0 again, George finally showed up in Game 3. He had 31 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 60 percent shooting from deep. George went on to parlay that performance into another 31-point outing in Game 4 before going for 37 in Game 5, the latter coming with Leonard sidelined indefinitely. The Clippers won all three games and now stand one win away from the conference finals.

Here’s a look at how George has bounced back in the last three contests.

Games 6-7 vs. Dallas and Games 1-2 vs. Jazz: 22.3 points, 6.0 assists, 9.8 rebounds, 35.4 FG%, 31.0 3P%
Games 3-5 vs. Jazz: 33.0 points, 4.7 assists, 9.3 rebounds, 50 FG%, 44.8 3P%

George’s efficiency is through the roof and he’s also getting to the free throw line more. After averaging five attempts per game in the first five games against the Mavs, George is taking 8.9 shots from the stripe on average. This is skewed by his two free throws in Game 4, but the point is George is being more aggressive and assertive. That’s a good sign for the Clippers.

After blowing a 3-1 lead in last year’s bubble, George took a lot of heat for his play and his postgame comments. This postseason was big for him and Leonard due to the latter’s potential to enter free agency. Leonard’s situation may have changed due to his knee injury (he may opt in and test free agency in 2022), but there was a chance he could’ve had second thoughts about convincing the team to give away the farm for George.

Now, the Clippers are far more likely to retain the tandem for the foreseeable future. George is already locked into an extension and Leonard will likely do the same, knowing he has a second star in the fold. George’s playoff struggles in the past won’t go away, but he’s coming into his own once again this postseason. That’s big news for George, Leonard and the Clippers after last year’s debacle.