Paul George seems to understand he has nothing to prove, but he silenced any remaining doubters in Game 5 of the Conference Finals nonetheless.
The All-Star gave arguably his greatest postseason performance ever (in a playoff run that already contained a few all-timers), dropping a historic statline against the Phoenix Suns to stave off elimination: 41 points (15-20 shooting, 3-6 from three), 13 rebounds and six assists in 41 minutes of action. According to the Alias Sports Bureau, George is the first player post such a line the postseason. He’s also just the fourth Clipper in franchise history to reach 40 points in a playoff game.
George’s coach and teammates have pointed out throughout the season that he takes more criticism than other superstars when he underperforms. The distasteful “Pandemic P” seems to be trending on Twitter whenever George has a poor shooting night. Some of this could be seen as self-inflicted (he did gift the media and internet with the “Playoff P” nickname himself), but it’s hard to deny that so many talking heads and social media trolls alike seem quick to highlight George’s struggles.
“I don’t know where this trolling bullsh*t has come from,” DeMarcus Cousins said of the condemnation George receives. “The internet controls the narrative about these players...I don’t understand it. It’s becoming quite silly. Respect these players.”
After his masterful performance on Monday, George let the media know that he doesn’t care what his critics think.
“I am who I am,” George said. “I wish I could shoot 80% on a nightly basis...They can judge me on what they want to. That part doesn't matter to me. I'm gonna go out there and hoop and give it everything I got."
George’s fire seemed to grow as Game 5 progressed; he had 20 points on 7-9 shooting in the third quarter alone. His midrange game was on point, his three-point shot returned to him, and he was aggressive getting to the basket despite the rim protection of Deandre Ayton (George was 8-8 from the line on Monday).
He and his teammates will now have a chance to tie the Conference Finals back at home in front of a full Staples Center crowd. Game 6 tips off on Wednesday at 6 p.m.