It’s safe to say Paul George is in a bit of a groove.
On a night where the LA Clippers overcame the Indiana Pacers by a score of 126-115, George dropped his fourth-consecutive 30+-point performance, scoring 36 points on 13-25 shooting and filling the box score with seven rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
LA needed such a performance out of George to earn the win, as the game was much tighter than the final box score would indicate. Through three quarters, LA only led by three, 100-97. Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis (20 points, 13 rebounds) was a matchup nightmare for the Clippers, as he was too quick for Ivica Zubac and too big for Patrick Patterson. Additionally, LA’s rim protection was nonexistent beyond Nicolas Batum (more on that later), and former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon (team-high 29 points) went 5-6 in the painted area as a result.
Were it not for Indiana’s poor three-point shooting luck (they went just 9-40, 22.5% for the game, despite shooting 36% for the season), the game could’ve gone down to the wire. Still, LA won the fourth quarter 26-18, thanks in large part to some solid bench play from Terance Mann and Batum, and the Clippers walked away with their sixth-straight victory.
PG, a man possessed
The primary scoring responsibility once again fell on George’s shoulders, as Kawhi Leonard sat out Tuesday night’s game with right foot soreness. In Leonard’s stead, George went to work from all areas of the floor, his shot chart resembling that of a Jackson Pollock painting. His midrange jumpers were falling, he was drawing contact around the rim (6-6 from the free throw line) and he sustained his stellar three-point shooting (4-7 on the night and 60% over this four-game hot streak). It’s only fitting that George is in the midst of some of his best basketball as a Clipper when he’s scheduled to play his old squad, the Pacers. Boos could be heard in the 25%-filled Bankers Life Fieldhouse when George’s name was read during pregame introductions, but that clearly didn’t affect his composure.
George’s assist total of eight is almost more impressive than his scoring numbers. He took on the responsibility of primary ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, and although he had five turnovers, he looked competent finding his teammates, whether it be Zubac for dunks, Marcus Morris Sr. for threes, or Mann for a pair of eye-popping alley-oop jams. When Leonard returns, George won’t be running pick-and-roll as often (Leonard is one of the most efficient players in the league out of pick-and-roll), but when he and Leonard are staggered and George is paired with the second unit, this skillset will remain useful.
Nic Batum channels his inner Serge Ibaka
Playing alongside Patrick Patterson (who isn’t exactly known for his shot-blocking prowess) on the second unit, the onus is on Batum to be the team’s rim protector, and he’s looked like Serge Ibaka in his OKC days in the Clippers’ last two matchups. After swatting three shots on Sunday against the Pistons, Batum tied his career-high with five blocks against the Pacers. Batum was meeting guys at the rim, sure, but he was also sprinting out to three-point shooters and swatting their attempts beyond the arc. He also grabbed a steal and did a great job moving his feet when switched onto smaller offensive players, showing off his entire defensive tool kit.
It’s worth noting that Batum first reached this career-high in blocks when he recorded a five-by-five (at least five of every box score measurement: points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) back on Dec. 16, 2012, when he was with the Trail Blazers. To summarize: the Frenchman is versatile.
Until Ibaka returns and either A) takes Patterson’s spot as the backup center or B) retains his starting role and moves Zubac to the backup 5 spot, Batum is the de facto shot-blocker for the second unit. He can also use his rediscovered rim protection skills when Lue elects to go centerless with Morris at the 5.
DeMarcus Cousins’ Clippers’ tenure appears to be over
After signing a 10-day contract with the Clippers back on April 5 and playing a grand total of fourteen minutes against the Trail Blazers and Rockets, DeMarcus Cousins did not play a single minute against the Pistons or Pacers. As previously mentioned, Lue went with Patterson (a locker room favorite) as the backup center. What’s more, The Athletic’s Shams Charania recently reported that the Clippers intend to sign free agent point guard Yogi Ferrell to a 10-day contract next week. With no other empty roster spots, it appears that Cousins’ DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) against Indiana was the last nail in the coffin. Lue appears to be content with the roster as is, and has no problem playing Patterson until Ibaka returns, whenever that may be.
The Clippers are in the midst of yet another back-to-back scenario, as they’ll travel 250 miles northeast tonight to square off with the Detroit Pistons, tomorrow at 5 p.m.