Paul George put the Clippers on his surgically repaired shoulders Sunday and carried them through the finish line for a 112-107 victory over a stubborn Suns team in Phoenix.
The comeback-minded hosts did their best to make the Clippers sweat, but they didn’t get to George.
“We definitely grow more growing these tough games,” George said in his postgame interview on Fox Sports Prime Ticket. “It’s good we were able to answer the call.”
In his seemingly effortless, don’t-even-sweat-it sort of way, George did a little bit of everything in the hang-on victory — including trading words with the Suns’ Devin Booker midway through the fourth quarter, a conversation that earned both stars technical fouls.
More importantly, George hit a ton of shots, finishing with a smooth, stylish and most-necessary season-high 39 points. The Palmdale native went 15 for 24 from the field — and 7 for 10 from 3-point range, the 10th game since he joined the Clippers he’s hit at least six 3s, the most in franchise history.
The Clippers (5-2) needed every ounce of George’s impressive output to fend off a feisty, Chris Paul-led Phoenix squad (5-2) that was, with 10:20 left, able to shave off all but one point off what was a 31-point Clippers lead.
The Suns took a big bite out of the Clippers’ lead by outsourcing them 37-24 in the third quarter.
In fend-off mode in the fourth, Serge Ibaka hit his first attempts of the game — consecutive 3-point attempts — that boosted the fragile advantage to 96-91.
George didn’t cool off down the stretch: His 17-footer made it 98-94. His gliding layup (following a pair of free throws by Kawhi Leonard and Ibaka) extended the lead further, to 104-96 with 4:36 to play. And his 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of the 6-foot-11 Deandre Ayton 107-98, with 3:11 left in the game.
And then George delivered a line drive of a pass to an open Nicolas Batum in the corner for the 3-pointer that made it 110-104 with only 11.9 ticks left.
He also defended effectively, and filled up the stat sheet in every other way: 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 5 turnovers and a disqualifying 6th foul (which came with fewer than 2 seconds to play and left him shaking his head).
“I wanted the standing O,” George joked on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.
A still-masked Leonard struggled from the field, finishing with 15 points on 4-for-21 shooting.
Batum continued his steady early contribution as a Clipper, finishing with 14 points, shooting 4 for 7 from behind the arc, where Luke Kennard also connected on 2 of his 3 attempts en route to his 14 points.
Booker played 45 minutes in the loss and finished with 25 points, one more than Ayton.
Before the game, the Suns held a moment of silence for Paul Westphal, a Hall of Famer who died Saturday at 70 after being diagnoses with brain cancer last August. As a player in Phoenix, Westphal helped lead the Suns to their first NBA Finals appearance in 1976, and, as a coach, guided them to the 1993 NBA Finals and two conference semifinals.
Pregame, current Suns coach Monty Williams reflected the legacy left by Westphal — who grew up in Southern California and played college basketball at USC: “It’s a sad day for not just the Suns family, but the NBA family and anyone who knew coach or heard of him … I watched him treat people with a great deal of care.”
More to come on this story.