There were different ways to answer the question about the dust-up in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game.
There was Devin Booker’s route. Discreet, probably dishonest and exactly what’s expected from a high-profile athlete: What happened with Paul George? “It’s nothing, honestly. It’s nothing.” And what did PG say to him? “I don’t remember.”
And then there was George’s style. The type of revealing assessment you’d expect from him.
“That’s a question you got to ask them,” George began, before expounding on a Zoom video conference with reporters. “I don’t talk, I play my game. For whatever reason, it’s dudes talking. Like, never heard people talking (before), and it’s never been directed towards me but for some reason it’s a lot of mouth.
“And it’s fine. I got to play up to that. I’ll go through the fire. It’s fine. As long as we come out on top and we win and I am helping my team win. That’s all that matters. Save the rest, they can do what they want. I’m locked in and it’s more so about me being at peace and at ease.”
As proof, George could point to his performance that night, when he dropped an easy 39 points on 15-of-24 shooting, including making 7 of his 10 attempts from 3-point range — his season-high scoring tally bailing out the Clippers after they blew almost all of a 31-point lead before holding on to win, 112-107.
George, a six-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA pick and the third-highest vote-getter in the league MVP race two seasons ago, also is first-team forthcoming.
After being mired in a woeful 10-for-47 shooting slump in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last season, George did something few athletes do. He acknowledged the mental strain he was enduring that series, played — of course — in the Orlando bubble.
“The bubble got the best of me,” George said in a postage interview after busting out with 35 points (in fewer than 25 minutes) in the Clippers’ 154-111 victory in Game 5 of that series against Dallas. “I underestimated mental health, honestly. I had anxiety, a little bit of depression. Just being locked in here, I just wasn’t there. I checked out. Games 2, 3, 4, I felt like I wasn’t there.”
Or recently on the “All the Smoke” podcast, when asked by retired NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson to analyze what went wrong with former Clippers coach Doc Rivers, George didn’t demur, as many would have seen fit to do.
He volunteered his eyebrow-raising two cents on the second-round playoff debacle, when the Clippers lost after relinquishing a 3-1 lead to Denver: “During that whole process, we never worked on adjustments. We never worked on what to do differently. We just literally having the same (stuff) happen over and over again.”
And lately, he said, he’s hearing (stuff) that seems to reflect the narrative that’s cast him as a poor playoff performer who’s perhaps too prepared with excuses.
Asked Sunday night if that sort of talk is motivating, George was, again, a straight shooter: “Absolutely,” he said. “And it’s the reason I came into this year focused. I heard all the noise and I use all that noise for motivation.”
And so, seven games into this season, the Clippers’ say-what-he-thinks star is averaging motivated career bests in field goal percentage (50.8), 3-point percentage (49.2), free throw percentage (93.9) and assists (5.1). His 25.1 points per game rank just outside of the top 10, league-wide.
After a resounding 128-105 victory over Portland last week, the introspective George took stock. He referenced the noise and his desire to transcend it, as much as it might drive him in his team’s title pursuit — which continues Tuesday when the Clippers (5-2) face San Antonio (2-4) at Staples Center.
“I think in today’s world, there’s so much negativity surrounded around the game,” said George, who last month signed a four-year, $190 million contract extension, arranging for him to continue playing close to his Palmdale hometown for years to come.
“You’ve got to just sit back and just analyze and kind of just be grateful to be in the position that you’re at and you’re in. We’re in an unbelievable situation as basketball players to be able to do what we love and not a lot of people can say that.
“So I think at the end of the day, it’s just reflecting and being proud of what you do and having fun with it. Don’t allow outsiders to kind of affect that and that could be a situation. Just gotta have fun with it.
“Everything’s not gonna be great, everything’s not gonna be perfect,” George continued. “There’s gonna be good days, there’s gonna be bad days. I think you’ve just gotta have fun and every day is an evaluation to get better.”
SPURS AT CLIPPERS
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Staples Center
TV: Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Paul George and Devin Booker got into it pic.twitter.com/qgDuWzXJ0g
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 4, 2021
“It’s nothing honestly. Nothing.
Devin Booker on its exchange with Paul George.
What did Paul George say to you?
“I don’t remember.”#Suns
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) January 4, 2021
“For whatever reason it’s dudes talking. Never heard people talking, it’s never been directed towards me, but for some reason, it’s a lot of mouth… As long as we come out on top, that’s all that matters.”
Paul George on why the talk about his name has changed in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/U0FILwCpQ6
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) January 4, 2021
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