Being seen as weak after playoffs ‘fueled me’

After his playoff struggles in the NBA bubble, LA Clippers guard Paul George said he had to come back “with vengeance” this season to address the fact that “people saw weakness” in him.

A highly motivated George continued his torrid start to the season by making 8 of 14 shots and scoring 26 points to lead the Clippers to a 138-100 rout of the Sacramento Kings at the Golden One Center on Friday night.

“I’m coming back with vengeance,” George said of his mindset entering this season after he and the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round to Denver last postseason. “I didn’t like, not so much of the noise and everything around [the way last season ended], but just the fact that people saw weakness.

“And I had to address that. I had to answer that. That fueled me. That put me in a place where I wanted to come back and be myself again.”

George told teammates entering the season that he was going to return to the form that helped him finish third in MVP voting during the 2018-19 season while in Oklahoma City.

“P is playing at a high level right now,” Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. said. “Which we all knew that he would. I feel as though he’s having an MVP season. And he told us that before the year started, that he was gonna come with it.”

George is shooting career highs of 50.3% from the field, 51.5% from 3-point range and 91.8% from the free throw line. He made 4 of 8 3-pointers against the Kings. George has made four or more 3s in 10 out of his 12 games this season.

George said he told teammates he was going to return to his MVP form this season because he had no other choice.

“After the tough year last year, it was the only way I could respond,” George said. “I immediately went straight to a dark place of where I just, I had nothing but to get better. That was the only thing on my mind and the only thing was to get better.

“Almost two years removed from having my shoulders operated on. … So I am just in a healthier mind state, I am in a healthier place.”

Last season, George struggled as he was coming off two shoulder surgeries following the 2018-19 season. During the NBA restart in the bubble, George suffered through the worst shooting slump he had experienced in the playoffs, going 10-for-47 combined in Games 2, 3 and 4, including missing 21 of 25 attempts from behind the 3-point line, in the first round against Dallas.

George admitted he had experienced bouts with depression and anxiety while in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, as he was unable to be with his family and loved ones. Then the Clippers collapsed in the second round to the Nuggets.

While George and Kawhi Leonard combined to shoot just 10-for-38 and score a combined total of 24 points in their Game 7 loss, George was the one who took a ton of heat from critics. His corner 3-point attempt that hit the side of the backboard in the fourth quarter symbolized the Clippers’ meltdown.

George not only was roasted on social media, but he even heard trash talking this season from opponents such as Phoenix’s Chris Paul and Devin Booker during a game on Jan. 3 when George and the two Suns guards exchanged words. George said he heard “a lot of chirping and people just living in the past.”

George has opted to let his game do his talking, averaging 25.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.3 steals to go with his career-best shooting percentages.

“He was able to work out this summer,” Leonard said. “Last summer he was limited, probably only could shoot 10 shots a day or so with his shoulder surgeries. He’s coming out with determination and he’s focused.”

“I can’t predict the future,” Leonard added on whether he saw this coming when the two worked out in the offseason. “But all I could say is he put his mind into his work, and when I did go work out with him, a lot of his stuff was like kind of game-simulated, working on the passes, reads, and it just translated over pretty much.”

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