LOS ANGELES — Paul George knows as well as anyone that there’s a time and a place for a good fishing trip. And this, as he made so emphatically clear in the Clippers’ 123-106 Game 3 win over Utah in the Western Conference semifinals at the Staples Center on Saturday night, was not it.
Back before the Clippers star became one of the stranger basketball villains in the NBA, with fans gleefully recycling his “Playoff P” quote from 2018 whenever he has a bad night and generally reveling in all of his worst professional moments, he was the Indiana Pacers’ small-market sensation whose passion for angling was part of his charm. The Palmdale, Calif., native, the SoCal kid who rose to prominence at Fresno State and became such a sympathetic figure when he broke his leg in Las Vegas while playing for Team USA in 2014, was a regular on the streams that surrounded Indianapolis and even picked his house in Oklahoma City due to its proximity to a lake across the street.
“Paul George kicks bass,” a headline in The Washington Post stated in May 2015.
Delete the “b”, and you’ve properly described what he did to the Jazz at the perfect time. Landing the big one against the Jazz, as it were, meant playing like the guy who the Clippers believed they were getting when he helped orchestrate the superstar coup with Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2019.
After all those years of suffering brutal “Gone fishin’ ” fates, and after the NBA bubble experience last year in which his off-the-side-of-the-backboard three-pointer in Game 7 against Denver in the second round came to symbolize the inaccuracy of his self-proclaimed postseason stature, George turned in a 31-point, five-assist performance that kept the darkness of another early playoff finish at bay for the Clippers.
Omnipresent owner Steve Ballmer was back in a high-five mood again, leaving his courtside seat in the closing moments to congratulate the players who now trail, 2-1, in the series. Famed Clippers consultant Jerry West went home happy, convening with Ballmer briefly when it was all over before stopping on the way out for a picture with a Jazz fan.
The Clippers’ well-chronicled plan, if only for a night, was still intact.
But when it was all unpacked by the folks who know best afterward, with Clippers coach Ty Lue, George and longtime teammate Reggie Jackson, discussing the night in which Leonard (34 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and George looked every bit like the superstar pairing that had hoped to take Los Angeles away from the Lakers by this point, it made you wonder why it can’t be like this more often.
Are you ready for the wild stat of the night, one that comes courtesy of Clippers beat writer Law Murray and that seems like there’s no way it could be real?
Leonard and George have scored 30-plus points on the same night … five times. Ever.