LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard suffered a pivotal knee injury during Game 4 against Utah Jazz, keeping him sidelined for Game 5. With media fervor at a high due to a historic Game 5 performance by Kevin Durant without his co-star Kyrie Irving against the Milwaukee Bucks, speculation surrounded Paul George on whether he could carry a team without Leonard.
With the media already declaring Game 5 as a “legacy game” for George, the storyline was created. If he performed poorly, the “Playoff P” narrative would be set in stone.
For some context, the moniker “Playoff P” came from a press conference where George jokingly said “Y’all ain’t met Playoff P yet, huh?” He followed it up with a string of poor playoff performances, most notably Game 6 against Utah in 2018 and Game 7 against Denver in 2020. The media ran with this incongruent narrative, giving him the reputation of a player who cannot perform in the playoffs consistently.
Thankfully, he showed up, having 37 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and one steal on 12-of-22 shooting (and 10-of-11 from the line). A bigtime performance for a bigtime player. The series is now 3-2 Clippers, who can clinch a conference finals appearance for the first time in franchise history. “Playoff P” showed up.
If he plays well, he’s “Playoff P” and if he plays bad, he’s “Pandemic P”, which is an alter-ego created by the media as vitriol against George.
One reporter even asked George “Is this what Playoff P looks like?” to which George laughingly responded with “Sure.” It demonstrated how scrutinized George has been this post season, with even the questions of the press shamelessly feeding into the Playoff P-Pandemic P dualistic narrative.
Senior Diego Rodriguez acknowledged the reactive nature of the media, perceiving whatever respect George earned for his spectacular performance as short-lived.
“It puts an end to [the Playoff P narrative] for the time being,” Rodriguez said. “He played brilliantly and if he continues, he’ll lead him team to their first conference final and maybe even championship which would end the narrative forever.”
The sad truth is that the narrative won’t cease to exist unless an entire championship is won, much more than singular heroic games. Large expectations to dispel something overblown and largely inaccurate.
Even analytically speaking, Paul George’s impressive performance was somewhat expected. George and Leonard basically play the position and have overlapping skill sets. George had a nine-game stretch in the regular season averaging 29 points per game with his co-star out. Typically, George defers offensively to Leonard when they share the court, but he’s shown to be capable of being a franchise player, seen in Indiana.
“Now [that] Kawhi’s down, I’m back in that Indy mindset,” George said.
The media loves to utilize the nostalgia of Paul George’s tenure with the Indiana Pacers to contrast his recent woes in the playoffs.
With talk surrounding about how George is reverting to his Indiana Pacers “Playoff P” days this postseason, it’s important to understand what exactly has worked for him unlike past years. He has had stretches of inefficiency this post season (4-17 shooting during Game 1 against Utah) but his aggression and volume scoring has been consistent. His rebounding, assists, and free-throws have increased from last year.
Part of George’s individual resilience stems from coach Ty Lue’s confidence in him. He has trusted and relied on George frequently, even allowing him to play point guard for the initial part of the season, which allowed him to stay more involved in the offense. This provides a stark contrast from previous coach Doc Rivers, who downplayed George’s abilities to that of a spot-up shooter in the corner, resulting in a catastrophic bubble (2020 playoffs) experience.
George has been averaging 25.9 ppg this postseason, a huge improvement from last year’s 20.2 which earned him the “Pandemic P” nickname. Hopefully, he can deliver a championship to the Clippers and end this childish narrative permanently.