After missing the entirety of training camp, preseason and the first 11 games of the regular season while rehabbing his shoulders, All-NBA forward Paul George made his highly-anticipated LA Clippers debut Thursday night.
The 29-year-old didn't disappoint, finishing with 33 points, nine rebounds and four assists in just 24 minutes of action but his debut was ultimately spoiled by the Pelicans, who rode the momentum of Jrue Holiday's game-high 36 points to a 132-127 win over the shorthanded Clippers, who were without Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard and Landry Shamet.
As with most players returning from injury, the prevailing concern was whether or not George would be equipped to handle the rigours of being thrown back into game action as it had been nearly seven months since he last took the floor.
It didn't take very long for George to put those concerns to rest.
After missing his first jumper of the night, the nine-year veteran's first bucket as a Clipper came in transition. The nerves were seemingly gone as the six-time All-Star let the game come to him.
In just six minutes, George went 4-for-7 from the field to score 10 points in his first quarter with his new team, setting the stage for a memorable debut.
Paul George drops 10 1st-quarter PTS in his @LAClippers debut! #ClipperNation- NBA (@NBA) November 15, 2019
Watch Live: https://t.co/3bTQPOmwYk pic.twitter.com/MIqq1YjYjM
George would go on to score his 33 points in an efficient manner as he finished the night shooting 10-for-17 from the field and a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe. His scoring total goes down in the record books the third-highest in an LA Clippers debut; Kawhi Leonard finished with 30 points in the Clippers opening night win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Leonard's absence Thursday means fans will have to wait a bit longer to see the Clippers newly-formed duo in action but with George seemingly picking up where he left off during his career year last season, these two - and this team - has the potential to be as scary as advertised.
LA's ability to keep this game close while down three key players is a testament to its depth.
In a starting role, back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams finished with 31 points (on 11-for-20 shooting) while Sixth Man of the Year finalist Montrezl Harrell also thrived in a starting role, finishing with 18 points (on 8-for-12 shooting), seven rebounds and six assists.
While the overall bench production took a hit, Rodney McGruder, who entered the night averaging 1.0 point per game, erupted for 20 points off the bench thanks to shooting 5-for-7 from beyond the arc.
R O D N 3 Y@RodneyMcGruder was perfect from deep in the first half. pic.twitter.com/O0VLGpSJvy- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) November 15, 2019
If there was one negative from George's performance it would be his inability to shake foul trouble, as he was forced to play cautiously late due to picking up five fouls in the game.
Head coach Doc Rivers said as much postgame, praising George's greatness on the offensive end while acknowledging the room for improvement on the other end of the floor: "He was great, we ran some good stuff for him…" Rivers continued, "He did all three phases of the game offensively. Defensively… that's just going to take time."
Rivers added that once his team is at full strength, an offensive attack led by George, Leonard and Williams will be a daunting task for opposing teams as few have enough elite defenders to neutralize all three players.
The Clippers, who fall to 7-5 on the season, are back in action on Saturday as they return home to host Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks at the Staples Center in what could be the first look at the newly-formed Western Conference power at full strength.
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