Since powering the LA Clippers to a win over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers on opening night, Paul George has spoken about the work he put in over the offseason now that he is fully healthy and how that has benefitted him.
Game-after-game, he continues to remind everyone of the same with his performances, hinting and showing shades of the PG that finished third in the 2018-19 MVP and Defensive Player of the Year voting.
George's most recent performance - a red-hot 39-point (15-24 FGs; 7-10 3Ps) outing against the Phoenix Suns - was another reminder that he's back. Thanks to the play of George, the Clippers withstood a Suns comeback rally to win 112-107. The victory meant that the franchise is now tied with the Suns and Lakers for the best record in the Conference at 5-2.
"I had a tough year last year... People think it's sweet, man. I didn't hear none of this in my 10 years in the league. I gotta answer to that.. I'm ready to compete. I'm back." 🔊- FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) January 4, 2021
Paul George talks after going OFF in PHX!@LAClippers pic.twitter.com/mwOz7fFypb
"He carried us tonight, and that's why he's here," Kawhi Leonard, who only finished with 15, said postgame of George .
But the victory didn't come easy, as a majority of the other Clippers struggled to get it going on the offensive end. After trailing by as many as 31 points midway through the second quarter, the Suns cut the deficit to just two (96-94) early in the fourth.
Then, George used his hot hand. He was responsible for each of the team's four field goals (and 10 of the 16 points) over the final nine minutes of the game.
NIC BATUM DAGGERS pic.twitter.com/AlQLoSJ9z0- FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) January 4, 2021
This is just NASTY, PAUL GEORGE!#ClipperNation pic.twitter.com/AK8ADKIt7s- FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) January 4, 2021
"People just living in the past. Last year was last year," George said postgame referring to an altercation he had with Devin Booker in the fourth quarter . "I'm in a new situation. I'm in a different mindset. Any of that hate stuff, you have to ask (Phoenix). I don't know where that's coming from."
It was a rough 2019-20 season for George, especially the last few months of it. He caught a lot of attention and flack for his and the team's performance in the Orlando bubble, most notably the 3-1 series meltdown against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals.
"I heard all the noise, and I use that noise for motivation," George said postgame .
"I don't talk, I play my game. For whatever reason, it's dudes talking. I've never heard people talking. It's never been directed, but for some reason, it's a lot of mouth. It's fine. I've got to play up through that. I'll go through the fire."
This is the fifth time in seven games that he has led the team in scoring. In wins, he is taking charge and leading from the front, whether that's opening night vs. the Lakers, on Christmas against the Nuggets in Denver, his all-around showcase against the Trail Blazers, or this most recent game in Phoenix.
George is averaging career-highs on assists (5.1) and on shooting percentages with splits of .508/.492/.929 - even after off games against the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz, where he combined to shoot 10-of-35 from the field.
Given the depth of the Clippers and the presence of Kawhi, it's unsure how much love George will get in the MVP voting this year but he's certainly making a strong early case to be back among the All-NBA forwards, an honour he didn't receive last year after getting voted to the First Team in 2018-19.
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