By Mackenzie Rivers
"Playoff P" lives on.
Whatever magic PG13 had bottled to score 30+ points in the three consecutive games worked - he had not even scored 25+ in three straight playoff games since his days in Indiana - yet at halftime of Game 6 it looked like that it had disappeared, when the Clips were down 22 and George was 4 for 13 from the field.
The third quarter didn’t change much from George’s perspective as a scorer either. He only made one of three shots in the third. But after his teammates combined to knock down 6 of 7 threes in the quarter - i.e. with his team back in it - George had a solid 4th QTR (his only good period of the game, really) shooting 4-for-7, knocking down a three and more importantly guiding LAC down the stretch with a calm hand.
The question we must now ask ourselves going forward is on George’s improved play over the last week - was it just a short term stint for one of the worst playoff “superstar” performers in recent NBA history?
Or was the fluke the “Playoff P” we saw in 2018 through about 8 days ago? George shooting the ball off the side of the backboard in Game 7 last year in the bubble - was that the anomaly for an otherwise fine shooter? If so, what caused it? The question really is - is there a clutch gene? A natural born gift of calmness, wisdom and determination in the biggest moments. Or can clutch in fact be learned?
Look at LeBron, the player of the millennium - not because he was any better or important than Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan or Shaquielle O’Neal (all of whom played and won a bunch this millennium as well) but because he entered the league the same year that Jordan and left and we’ve been talking about him - his potential, his influence, his whatever - pretty much 24/7 ever since.
The LeBron story is an important one here because contrary to popular belief I don’t believe LeBron in 2007 was anywhere close to LeBron in 2012-present. After LBJ went through trials and tribulations he became a much better player, even if his traditionals stat line of 27,7 and 7 remained essentially the same.
LeBron had more than a few “Playoff L” type performances prior to winning a championship too. Of course the 2011 Finals is the first one to come to mind - but there were puzzling moments of passivity from Bron Bron long before that collapse vs. Dirk, Jason Kidd, Jayson Terry & the boys (Paul Pierce's Celtics, anyone?)
And while was the worst one, it was also the turning point in LeBron’s career.
After the worst moments of his life - especially the ones broadcast in front of the world - James played WAY better than he ever had before the following season. All the toughness and grit stats that I would point to as a LeBron-skeptic? Well, they all improved drastically. Let's take a quick look at just how much:
LBJ’s Offensive Rebounds jumped by 50%: 1.0 per game in 2010-11, to 1.5 in 2011-12.
His blocks per game jumped 33%.
Most importantly, LeBron had developed a real post game with many workable options.
In 2010-2011, LeBron took 43% of his shots from inside 10-feet. In 2011-2012, that number jumped to 52%. James went from making 70% of his shots within 3-feet in 2010-211, to 77% the following year.
Long-story short: LeBron was no longer a big guard. LeBron was a BIG MAN with elite guard skills.
After facing what he faced in the 2011 Finals and the aftermath, LeBron quite frankly grew a backbone. He began to muck it up with the other 6’8-6’11 guys and held his own better than we had seen him do prior.
And I believe that Paul George - once down 0-2 to the Jazz, and having just had six straight terrible shooting games in a row, that George finally had that fuck-it-not-today-moment. Let me loose.
Now let’s get to the making money part of it:
Without Kawhi the books have put up much higher O/U’s for George than earlier in these playoffs.
For example his points prop - usually around 25.5 when Kawhi was healthy - was 30.5 in Game 6.
Directionally though - I like where George is at - and I anticipate his increased role to remain throughout these playoffs. I also believe there will be really good opportunities to bet George OVERs, specifically on his Points + Rebounds + Assist prop, and other multi-stat derivative type of offensive player props for LAC.
I am less confident George will shoot well in any given game, sure, but I am more than confident his assertiveness, aggression, calm & confidence he has demonstrated over the past 4 games will continue.
George’s PRA has been right around 38.5-39.5, which is about 5 above his season averages, but again only about 3-4 PRA more than this prop earlier this postseason - and I believe it should be close to 42.5.
George has gone OVER his PRA prop in each of his last 5 games, averaging 45.6 PRA over that time.
In the two games so far without Kawhi, George has averaged 51 PRA.
PG had 58 PRA in Game 5 in Utah (his playoff career high, and 6 PRA more than any other game George has played in this season) and 44 PRA in Game 6, again despite shooting 5-16 over the first 3 quarters.
Outside of George throwing off the yoke of the choker label - and playing with reckless abandon but also with grit, several other factors make me reason the market has not yet adjusted enough to George’s PRA.
First one is obvious: without Kawhi, the Clippers need George to take more shots.
The second is less obvious, but more important: without Kawhi available, the Clippers need all their best players to play more minutes, especially George. George played 46 minutes in Game 6. In a non-elimination game in the playoffs that number might be lower, but I expect Ty Lue to continue to play him 42-46 minutes each game, because George - especially this past week - has earned that trust of his coach.
Now, against the Suns, can he earn redemption like the great LeBron James did back in 2012.
Playoff P lives on, for now...