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The reason behind Paul George’s ‘benching’ in 4th quarter, per Clippers coach Tyronn Lue

Clippers, Tyronn Lue, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard

LOS ANGELES — With Paul George struggling for the first time all season, Kawhi Leonard stepped up to the plate and led the Los Angeles Clippers to a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. Tyronn Lue’s club, however, had someone noticeably absent in crunch time.

Leonard scored 34 points in the contest while adding nine rebounds and eight assists in 36 minutes. George, who has been playing at an MVP level throughout the first month of the season, suffered his first bad game of the season. He finished with a season-low 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from beyond the arc. According to head coach Tyronn Lue, there was good reason for that.

“I benched him!” Ty Lue blurted. “I benched him!”

After letting it sink for a few seconds, Lue explained.

“Nah, I’m just messing with you,” Lue said with a laugh. “He had some tightness going into the game tonight, so he got loose and he played, but he had some tightness going into the game, and the last four and a half or five minutes, he just kind of said he felt tight, he tightened up again, so we just got him out to be cautious.”

Paul George was able to play 33 minutes in the afternoon game, and he nailed a 3-pointer to give the Clippers a 100-83 lead with 4:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. He immediately checked out after and did not return to the court despite the Thunder closing to within six points late.

After the game, George confirmed that he was dealing with some issues with his hamstring, but assured members of the media it was not a major concern.

“It was a little tight tonight,” George said. “Tried to give it a go and give whatever I had, you know. We went up 17 at that point, checked out just to limit anything else happening to it. And you know, they end up making it very interesting at the end. But we got the W. Again, going forward I should be good. Just going to use these next couple of days to prepare and get ready for it.”

The Clippers wrapped up a four-game home stand on Sunday and will embark on a six-game road trip starting Tuesday night against the Atlanta Hawks and finishing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, with trips to Miami, Orlando, New York, and Brooklyn in between.

Tyronn Lue’s hope is that Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and the rest of the Clippers will be healthy for the trip. In addition to George’s hamstring injury, Marcus Morris missed Sunday’s game with a stomach illness and Patrick Beverley missed the second half with right knee soreness.