For the first time all season, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the LA Clippers are facing real adversity. With their series against the Dallas Mavericks tied at 2-2, the Clippers are now just two losses away from an unbelievably disappointing end to their season. They’re also, however, two wins away from advancing to the Western Conference semifinals.
Among the multiple problems the Clippers have faced throughout the series, none have been as perplexing as the shooting struggles that George has endured in his last three games. And it’s not just that George has been bad. He’s been historically bad over the last week.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, George became the first player since Bob Cousy in 1960 to shoot under 25 percent in three straight playoff games (minimum 10 field goal attempts per game).
Ben Golliver of the Washington Post add that George’s 29 percent shooting over the first four playoff games (20-of-69 FG) marks the lowest field goal percentage of any player in the 2020 NBA playoffs with at least 25 shot attempts.
So what’s gotten into Paul George?
NBA.com/stats’ tracking data shows that in his last three games, Paul George is shooting just 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) on ‘open shots,’ defined as having closest defender be four-to-six feet away while in the act of shooting, including 4-of-15 from beyond the arc. On ‘wide open shots,’ defined as having closest defender be more than six feet away while in the act of shooting, George is 0-of-9 from the field, including 0-of-8 from beyond the arc.
“If I make shots, this series could be a little different,” Paul George conceded after Game 4’s 3-of-14 shooting performance. “And that’s the obvious, of course. That’s what it just comes down to. But give them credit, they’re playing well, they’re defending, they’re shooting the ball, Luka is playing phenomenal — you gotta give credit where credit is due.
“But to be honest, in hindsight, if I shoot the ball better, this series would be a lot different.”
Outside of Game 3, the Clippers haven’t played well defensively, but’s a chance they still could’ve swept the series if George were shooting his average. A few times during Game 4, the Mavs were double-teaming Kawhi Leonard and leaving George alone. If he received the ball, he’d either miss the shot or show a complete lack of confidence like he did on this play:
Starting to think Paul George’s confidence in his shot is shaken. All year, this would’ve been a bucket… pic.twitter.com/y2Z6QdeSHD
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) August 23, 2020
At this point, a lot of George’s struggles appear to be in his own head, even though he says he’s still plays with the same level of confidence.
“I play the game confidently. The shots that I’m taking, I’m expecting to make. It just is what it is. Just missing shots. And I don’t think it’s from a confidence standpoint, because once I see it go through and I find that rhythm, I’ll be right where I want to be. Problem is, just getting to that point. Usually, you’re in a hostile environment and that usually helps you get to that moment, so I just gotta find that. Just find that when I’m out on that floor, that environment. I’ll fight through it, I gotta help the team, and I’m aware of that, and I will get to that point.”
Kawhi Leonard, who has faced his share of adversity in his three NBA Finals appearances that resulted in two NBA Championships, says he hasn’t lost confidence in George,
“Just tell him to keep going,” Leonard says on what he tells George. “His time is coming. He had some easy looks tonight. Everybody did, but it’s not his fault. We were up big in the second quarter and I think everybody has a part in winning the basketball game.
“We’re confident it’s gonna turn around for him. We got his back.”
Arguably the team’s best shooter, Landry Shamet has endured both the hot and the cold shooting nights throughout his young career. He also isn’t worried about George, and instead, reminded everyone that it’s tough to judge George strictly off of his shooting.
“I mean, it’s Paul George,” Shamet said. ” He’s got his own shoe. He’s been on the cover of a video game. It’s not the first time he’s been publicly scrutinized. I don’t think it’s anything new to him. There’s obviously a lot of pressure with this team. We have championship expectations. But for me seeing him, yeah, he’s not making shots but is he still being a good teammate? Yeah. Is he still moving the ball, playing hard defensively? Absolutely. A good basketball player is not just defined by the shots he makes.
“On this team and under the scope that we’re under, yeah, he’s going to get ridiculed a little bit, but in these four walls with our team, we’ve all got his back. Nobody is worried about that. He’s playing the right way. He’s taking the shots that we want him to take, and one of these nights he’s going to have 40 and everybody is going to say, oh, yeah, well, he was supposed to. That’s what he does. He’s a scorer. Nobody here is worried about it. It’s going to come.”
Backup forward/center JaMychal Green was a little move candid in providing insight as to why George could be struggling the last couple of games.
“We just keep trying to tell PG to get out of his head, try to block out the social media, the fans, and just get back to playing ball,” Green said. “We need him, need him to get back to the high-level basketball he’s capable of playing, and I feel like he’s just in his head, so we just try to tell him that we need him, we know what he can do, and just show it.”
Doc Rivers says he’s taking it upon himself and his staff to get George some easier looks moving forward. At the same time, he also relayed that he’s been very satisfied with the looks George is getting.
“I just let him keep shooting. Listen, we clearly — we’ve got to get him more shots, and that’s on us. That’s on all of us. But he got great looks last night, and I just want him to get more of those and take more of those. You know, he needs to shoot 20 plus times. He needs to get the ball up in the air. And he will. He will. He feel very confident about PG because I always have.”
Game 5 between the Clippers and Mavericks almost feels like a do-or-die scenario considering how poorly the Clippers have played defensively and how badly George has shot. If Paul George can find his shot, it could ignite the rest of the team in a pivotal game.