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Clippers star Paul George breaks silence after 34-point explosion in first game back since December

Paul George, Clippers

LOS ANGELES – The LA Clippers welcomed Paul George back to the lineup in dramatic fashion on Tuesday night. George returned from a 43-game absence due to an elbow injury, helping the Clippers end a five-game losing streak.

George scored 34 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field, 6-of-9 from three, and 8-of-11 from the free throw line. Head coach Tyronn Lue said Paul George was on a minutes restriction heading into his first game back, but the star forward played 31 minutes on the night, including 17 in the second half.

“He looked really good,” Lue said of George. “I didn’t think he would be that good. The biggest thing was just defensively, I thought with Conley, deflections, picked him a couple of times, just being aggressive with him, the big steal at the end of the game, when they were trying to run a play, he came from behind, he did some great things with that. I didn’t think he would be that good offensively but he was pretty sharp.”

Behind George’s 34 points, including 20 in the third quarter, the Clippers overcame a 25-point second-half deficit to beat the Jazz.

“I felt good, but honestly I was well prepared coming into tonight,” Paul George said after the win. “I shouted out the guys that was working with me, when those guys were playing games and those guys were on the road, I was at Honey Training Center grinding, trying to get back healthy and get in shape, and the crew that was there to work with me really pushed me and one person I didn’t shout out was B-Shaw. B-Shaw really worked me in to shape, and so, it just got me prepared to play.”

George suffered the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow back on December 6th in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Clipper star returned after a five game absence and played well against the Spurs and Kings. On Christmas Day, the team announced that George would be out indefinitely with the injury, with a four week rest period before a re-evaluation.

“I mean, when I was feeling it in December, it was just painful,” George added. “It was painful. I felt I couldn’t do the stuff that I needed to do. Shooting was never the issues. I could shoot and be a catch-and-shoot player for us, but to be a playmaker, to be a ball handler, I felt I would’ve been really limited just ’cause of the pain.

“It took us to a point where we kept getting MRIs to see if it would heal and based off what the doctor’s was telling us, time was on our side and you know, really, there’s a chance of it healing with no surgery, so we erred on that side and it paid off.”

George went through multiple evaluations and MRIs before the team cleared him to ramp up basketball activities. Over the last few weeks, George began taking contact and ramped up to five-on-five basketball. Following multiple scrimmages, the team cleared him to play in Tuesday’s game against the Utah Jazz.

“I was always optimistic that I could come back and play, just my history, coming down to playoffs. I’ve always played through some sort of injury, so, I just didn’t know how bad it was gonna be or how much time it was gonna take, but I just kept the guys encouraged to keep going and stay in it because at some point I will return.”

It wasn’t all positive for Paul George, however. When the Clippers forward initially suffered his elbow injury, he didn’t have much optimism that he could return right away. In fact, surgery was very much a possibility.

“Yeah, [surgery] was [a possibility]. It was. Honestly, right after it happened, I was on the side of just getting surgery and getting over it and getting it done now so I don’t have to go into a summer rehabbing and healing and nursing an injury. I wanted to hit the ground running in the summer time so immediately I wanted to get surgery, but the doctor that dealt with this and saw this a lot in athletes said that this injury heals, that the ligament will attach itself back to the bone and I should be fine, just give it some time so… Thankfully we went that direction. I feel good and he was right.”

George will likely continue to be limited as the regular season winds down, but the hope is that the team can get him ample time to ramp up with the current squad heading into the play-in tournament. The Clippers do have a back-to-back set against the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, but Paul George is only expected to play in one of those games.

After that, George should have at least two games remaining with 48 hours of rest in between. Depending on which contest the Clippers choose to rest George, it could be three games.

In any case, the Clippers are surely happy to have their All-Star back, and they’ll look to close the season out strong over the next few weeks.