Paul George said the LA Clippers failed to make any adjustments during their stunning NBA playoff meltdown last season when they blew a 3-1 second-round series lead to the Denver Nuggets.
Appearing Wednesday on the “All The Smoke” podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, a candid George talked about the Clippers’ failure to do anything to stop the bleeding once Denver began its comeback, saying they were “having the same s— happen over and over again.”
As coach Doc Rivers oversaw a blown 3-1 series lead for the second time during his Clippers tenure, George said the team was not prepared enough. He also said that a lack of practice time due to injuries and circumstances during the season exacerbated the collapse as players were forced to try to iron out issues on the court during playoff games.
“It was tough, because we were confident,” George told Jackson and Barnes when asked about the Clippers’ collapse. “We went up 3-1, we felt like, we’re going to win the next one. We lost. We [were] like, cool, we’re up 3-2, we gonna win the next one. We lost. But during that whole process, we never worked on adjustments. We never worked on what to do differently. We just literally having the same s— happen over and over again. It started to play a trick on you like, man, what’s going on?
“We are talking amongst each other like the conversation is, we are going to be all right. The conversation should have been like, nah, we need to change this, we need to switch this up. I don’t think we deserved it. We wasn’t prepared enough going into it. … We didn’t put the work into it. It was kind of just like, yo, we got PG, we got Kawhi [Leonard], Lou [Williams], Trezz [Montrezl Harrell]. We going to be straight; we are going to figure it out.”
The Clippers lost three consecutive games to Denver, falling short of the championship expectations with which they entered the season. That led to the team parting ways with Rivers, who couldn’t get the Clippers on the same page during a season full of injuries, little practice time and constant disruptions.
George, who missed the first 11 games of the regular season before returning and averaging 21.5 points and 5.7 rebounds, said his first season with the Clippers got off to a difficult start because of his inability during the summer of 2019 to train like he normally does or participate in training camp with his new team after shoulder surgeries.
“I missed that time in the summer of playing pickup ball, hooping, getting into a rhythm, getting into a flow, working on my game, the timing right,” he said. “So when I came back and started playing again, I just felt off, like I didn’t feel like a part of the team.”
George also said Rivers didn’t play to his strengths, saying he was utilized “like a Ray Allen or like a JJ Redick — all pindowns.”
“I can do it. But that ain’t my game,” George said. “I need some flow. I need some mixes of pick-and-rolls. I need some post-ups. Just different touches. … And so, it was just, that last season was just hard overall.”
The Clippers are banking on Tyronn Lue, who replaces Rivers and moves up from his lead assistant position last season, to improve the team’s in-game strategy and chemistry among Leonard, George and the Clippers’ role players. Lue said a major difference this season that should help the chemistry is having Leonard and George healthy and participating in training camp.
“Just as far as me talking to Kawhi, he is excited to get back on the court,” Lue said Wednesday. “When you are dealing with great players, when you lose early on in the playoffs, you are always eager to get back. That is what great players do. We all failed at our goal last season, and we all know that.
“Kawhi has done a great job of taking [initiative] to get guys on the phone, talking to guys, seeing guys more,” Lue added. “He has done a great job of that. He is excited to get back on the floor just from talking to him, and we are all excited, as well.”
Lue is no stranger to dealing with superstars and trying to hold them accountable. He won two championships as a Los Angeles Lakers player alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and another title as a coach while guiding LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Lue and George have said the Clippers need a lot more time together on the floor in practices. George said that was a major reason why the Clippers were often not on the same page and could be seen barking at one another at times during the playoffs.
“I relate it to we didn’t practice during the whole year, and that is hard to do when you are putting a fresh new group of guys together,” George said. “The problems you have during games, those s— can be ironed out in practice. You are going to bump heads in practice, but you are going to come out of that practice like, ‘OK, I understand this dude. I know where he is coming from.’ When it happened during games, it is going to rub a little differently.
“It is hard to come back from that, especially in the playoffs. Then you are like, ‘OK, that is what he’s on. So all right, I got you.’ That is kind of how the team, that is how we was and how we went about it after stuff started unfolding and unraveling.”
The Clippers return to camp this week a different team, with Rivers gone to the Philadelphia 76ers, Harrell signing with the Lakers and JaMychal Green joining the Nuggets. The Clippers added Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard via free agency and trade.
George said this season will get off to a different start just because he and Leonard will be healthier and can work with the entire team.
“I think for this year, everybody is starting off on a healthy page, we are starting off on the same page,” George said. “Me and Kawhi are going to get some time together working out. I think everything is just not rushed going into the season.”