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Clippings: Paul George shakes off his crunch-time demons

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All the hand-wringing about the Clippers in the clutch looked a little silly.

Los Angeles Clippers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s increasingly difficult to find reasons to worry about the Clippers these days, but the one many people have latched on to is the team’s difficulties during crunch time, defined as any time in the last five minutes of a game when the score is within five points.

Coming into Tuesday’s game against the Trail Blazers, the Clippers had the third-worst net rating in the clutch despite having the second-best net rating overall in the league, per NBA.com. Both the team’s offense and defense have been about 10 points per 100 possessions worse in these high-pressure situations.

The defense isn’t as concerning because teams often have to foul to get back into games, which gives opposing teams easy opportunities to put up points. But L.A.’s offense can look a bit stagnant at the end of games, and the stars simply haven’t been getting the job done. Kawhi Leonard is shooting 11-of-35 from the field in the clutch, and Paul George was 6-of-23 heading into the Portland contest. Collectively, the two were 5-of-24 from 3-point range.

That volume of 3-pointers compared to the total number of field-goal attempts is a bit surprising. Yes, the Clippers shoot the ball extraordinary well, but these haven’t been assisted looks. More often than not, these are pull-up threes that let the defense off the hook, and that hasn’t been a successful strategy for the Clippers.

George flipped the script against the Blazers. He only took one three in the final five minutes (incidentally, a miss), an instead was relentless at getting to the paint, even if that meant his drive just created a little extra space for a step-back two. In the last minute of the game, George got to the basket on three straight possessions, scoring on lay-ups twice and icing the game with two free throws. He tallied the final six points of the game, turning a 107-112 deficit into a 113-112 win.

“We played great down the stretch,” George said postgame. “We weren’t great for the whole 48, but I thought when we needed to be great, we were great. This group just continues to fight. I think we play well when we’re down. I think we play well when we’re facing adversity. We tend to answer to the call.”

Justifiably or not, the team’s ability to answer the call has been in question, but the Clippers have closed games well in recent weeks — who can forget the Reggie Jackson special in Detroit? If this facet of the game is no longer a weakness, that opens up a world of new possibilities.

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