On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Clippers finally took care of business in the manner we all expected them to. Facing a Dallas Mavericks team that was missing Kristaps Porzingis for a second straight game, the Clippers locked down Luka Doncic and ran away with a 154-111 victory. They were aided in this effort by one Paul George, who finally broke out of his slump to the tune of 35 points on 12-18 shooting.
It's not a stunning proclamation to say the Clippers need this version of George if they want to make a title run. But to even get to the Western Conference Finals, they really cannot have the version of George who showed up for the middle games of their first-round series against Dallas. George was not just bad, he was awful over the last three games. He looked fine in Game 1, scoring 27 points on 45 percent shooting from the floor. But he totaled just 34 points over the next three games, including one especially brutal performance in Game 4 where he scored just two points in the final three quarters and overtime in a game Los Angeles lost by two.
George explained after the latest game that his slump was due to him just getting into his own head, which seems like it would be much easier to do in the bubble with almost nothing else to distract him. It does happen to even the best players and the Clippers would certainly rather George figure all of this out against the Mavericks than, say, the Los Angeles Lakers in a few weeks. But they need him to be Kawhi Leonard's reliable sidekick on offense because nobody else can.
Lou Williams knows how to put the ball in the basket like few other players in the NBA and was the Clippers' second-leading scorer in Games 2 and 4, both losses for Los Angeles and games in which George scored 14 and 9 points, respectively. But as the Clippers know from the last five years, relying on Williams as a top offensive option is not conducive to winning basketball. That is because Williams is as bad defensively as he is good offensively. Such is life when you're a slight 6-foot-1 scoring guard who never really gave that much effort on that end of the floor anyway. If George isn't making his shots, though, Williams is the only option they can turn to even if he gives up nearly as many points as he scores.
Landry Shamet is a very good shooter but runs into a similar defensive problem given his lack of size. Wings like Marcus Morris and JaMychael Green are there to make timely shots and play defense, not put up 20 points on any given night. Reggie Jackson is a wild card, but the days of regular 20-point outings are behind him. All of these problems are compounded by the fact that Leonard, the undisputed No. 1 option, has never been a great distributor with the ball in his hands. That isn't to say he can't pass at all; he averaged a hair under five assists per game this season and has continued on that pace in the playoffs. But he's not a natural set-up man for his teammates. Leonard is at his best when he can pound the rock in isolation and then hit a teammate when a double comes or the defense crashes in on him, not running a set like other playmaking forwards tend to favor.
Which brings us back to George. Like Leonard, George is not a playmaker at heart. But when the Clippers are getting 50-70 points a night from their top two stars, that matters much less. Leonard will be as consistent as they come with his scoring output between his jumper and ability to get to the line. George has only averaged four free-throws per game against Dallas, which means his output lives and dies with his jumper. When that's clicking, everything falls into place. The Clippers need that to maximize their potential and make the championship run their superstar duo had in mind when they agreed to team up last summer.