By Joey Serrano
PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns are in trouble if Paul George replicates his performance from Game 5.
The Los Angeles Clippers standout had the best postseason effort of his career. He went 15 of 20 from the field and scored a playoff career high 41 points to go with 13 rebounds and six assists, a signature performance for someone who has been criticized for not delivering in high stakes games. After Monday’s victory, he said he believes he receives more heat than other NBA stars.
“I do. And it’s the honest truth. It’s a fact,” said Paul, whose Clippers face the Suns in Game 6 tonight. “But I can’t worry about that. It comes with the job, I guess. … They can judge me on what they want to. That part don’t matter to me. I’m going to go out there and hoop and give it everything I got.”
During “Inside the NBA” on Tuesday, former Suns standout Charles Barkley challenged the suggestion that attacks on Paul’s performances are more frequent than those directed at other stars.
“Every great player gets criticized,” he said. “I don’t want to hear that bull crap. … It’s a false narrative.”
The Suns are just one win away from advancing to their first NBA Finals in over 25 years. They know how hard that task will be if George goes off again in Game 6.
“We gave them a lot of open shots early,” Suns guard Chris Paul said. “That’s a team that plays off confidence when they are making shots, so we got to get the right people shooting.”
George has been hit or miss in his playoff career. Last year in the NBA bubble, he became the talk on social media with many nicknaming him Pandemic P after the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead to the Dallas Mavericks. He explained that he was dealing with depression and anxiety while being in the bubble last postseason and how hard it was being away from family and friends.
“Underestimated mental health honestly,” George told reporters last season. “I had anxiety, a little bit of depression just being locked in here and I just wasn’t there. I checked out.”
These playoffs have been a different story as George has improved every round. He is arguably the biggest reason why the Clippers are in their first ever Western Conference FInals and why they are two wins away from the NBA FInals . He has raised his points per game in every series from 23.6 to 29.0 to 30.1.
“That’s who he is. PG has been great for us all year,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I just don’t understand why it’s magnified so much when he doesn’t play well, when he has a bad game. A lot of people play bad.”
Just like the past, he hasn’t had an easy time in these playoffs when it comes to the media and the internet. He has been the subject of criticism every time he has a bad game, most notably Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. George was sent to the line with the Clippers up one and missed two crucial free throws, opening the door for Deandre Ayton’s game-winning alley oop.
“Do I want to see him have to make two free throws with no time on the clock down one?” said Fox Sports personality Skip Bayless on “Undisputed.” “I would dread watching that because I don’t know if he’s got that in him right here right now.”
George was able to bounce back in Game 5 and delivered a standout performance for his team when they needed him the most.
“That’s what great players do, you always bounce back. If you have a rough game, you always come back and play well. Our team needed it,” Lue said.
To make matters worse for the Suns and their fans, the Los Angeles Clippers are the only team in NBA history to overcome a 2-0 hole multiple times in the same postseason. This seems to be the Clippers’ modus operandi.
Suns coach Monty Williams said after the Game 5 loss that his team failed to step up.
“I didn’t think we showed them enough bodies,” he said. “It comes down to being able to guard the ball and forcing them to shoot tough shots. We let Paul go left step back. How many times did we see that tonight?”
If the Suns are to succeed in Game 6, they can’t let it happen again.