LOS ANGELES – Paul George made his L.A. Clippers home debut on Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks and did not disappoint. If fans thought his Clippers debut against the New Orleans Pelicans was impressive despite the loss, they saw an even better show over the weekend.
George had 33 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field, 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, and 10-of-10 from the free throw line in 24 minutes Thursday night. He followed that up with 37 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field, 6-of-11 from beyond the arc, and 11-of-11 from the free throw line in four fewer minutes against the Hawks. The second game was a 150-101 win, by the way.
One hundred and fifty in regulation: The second most points scored in franchise history, and that was without two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
“It was great, given we had another 30, 40 points that didn’t play tonight,” said George after the game, referring to Leonard and Patrick Beverley, who sat out due to injury. “I thought from the second the game started, our pace was off the charts. We got everyone into rhythm early. We found one another. We moved the ball and it just generated really great shots down the stretch each possession. And I think that’s the team that we can be. The team that just constantly has waves of guys coming out and get great looks on the basket. That’s really what we did tonight.”
Through two games, both without Leonard, George is posting an absurd 80.9 percent true shooting percentage, which more accurately measures shooting efficiency based on made shots, made three-pointers, and made free throws. According to Jovan Buha, the league average is around 53-54 percent. So what’s attributing to George’s insane shooting numbers?
“New shoulders,” George explained with a laugh as if it was simple. “I can’t say nothing else to that. I got new shoulders. They haven’t been this healthy in a long time.”
George finished with ‘only’ 37, but had the game been a bit closer and George not been limited, he believe he could’ve had the first 50 point game of this career.
“It could’ve been my first 50,” smiled George. “That’s just how I felt.”
During a four minute stretch to start the third, George scored a quick nine points and upped the Clippers lead to 15. On his final trio of points, a driving layup and a foul, George scored the bucket and yelled, ‘I’m back!’ at the Clippers crowd.
“I’m confident. I’m a confident player. It wasn’t more so a confidence standpoint by me saying, ‘I’m back,’ it was just a statement standpoint. I’m just happy to be back to this game. Taking 10 games off was a bit too much for me. So I’m just happy — happy to be playing basketball again.”
He was taken out a few following the next possession, but it was a defining moment in the last two games. Not only was George ‘back’ to playing, but he was ‘back’ home, playing in front of the home crowd that he was once a part of.
“It was a regular day. I didn’t try to put too much on it. I had one under my belt already. That was a big day in New Orleans with me being nervous and getting on the floor. Today was a normal day. After shootaround, I came home and played video games and played with my kids. I just got ready for a game like I would any other game. Just being out there, I felt it at shootaround.
“Having that first game under my belt really did a lot for me from a confidence standpoint and the way my body responded. I felt ten times better than I felt going into New Orleans.”
Seventy points in two games on 20-of-24 shooting in just 44 minutes of action for Paul George. Obviously, those numbers can’t stay that astronomically high, but that’s the guy Leonard wanted the Clippers to trade for to be his sidekick on the journey towards an NBA Championship at home.
If you asked George how he played, he kept it real without sugarcoating anything.
“I’m going to still be critical. I think in 20 minutes, I had a lot of errors from defense to bad passes. I’m not going to play a perfect game, but I think in those moments I did have turnovers. There were a lot of different plays I wish I could take back. But again, this is all fresh for me right now. I live with it and get better with it.”
George will continue to work his way back into game shape and game speed, but he’s looked terrific so far. His next challenge will be keeping up his efficiency alongside Kawhi Leonard, who Doc Rivers says will ‘most likely’ return Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.