What was the best game of Paul George's career? It's a surprisingly difficult question to answer for such a decorated player. George has been steadily excellent for almost a decade, but largely lacks signature performances. He has never once scored 50 points in a game and has only four career triple-doubles. His career-high 48-point outing against the Utah Jazz in 2015 came in a loss. His best game score came in a 47-point, 15-rebound gem against the Brooklyn Nets in 2018, but that team was 8-18 at the time.
He'd never scored 40 in a playoff game entering Monday, nor did he reach 30 once in his legendary seven-game duel with LeBron James in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. His 37-point domination of the Jazz in Game 5 of the second round might be the answer, but it was quickly overshadowed by Terance Mann's 38 only a game later. Dig through George's game logs and you'll find plenty of gems, but no signature. He has never been defined by a single game.
But no single game could better encapsulate everything great about Paul George than the one he just played against the Phoenix Suns on Monday. Less than a year ago, he became a laughingstock by hitting the side of the backboard in a Game 7 as his Clippers blew a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers entered Monday on the other side of the 3-1 equation, one loss away from elimination, and George answered with an unreal stat sheet.
41 Points. 13 rebounds. Six assists. Three steals. A shooting line that looks too clean to possibly exist: 75/50/100. All while facing elimination on the road without his best teammate. Monday was supposed to be Chris Paul's coronation, his chance to reach the Finals for the first time and do so in front of his home fans. Instead, George snatched it from him and extended a series that had no business lasting six games. After years of criticism for his postseason performance, his teammate DeMarcus Cousins said it best. It's time to give George "his flowers."
After all, the game was not only the best of George's career, but perhaps also the most important. As talented as this Clippers team is, George knows not to take conference finals appearances lightly. He hasn't been there since 2014. Getting there next year with the Lakers and Warriors back to full strength will be no easy task, and even if he passes them, the juggernaut Nets would likely be waiting for the Clippers in the Finals. Kawhi Leonard is a free agent after this season, and while he is expected to return to the team, the continuous lack of transparency about his knee injury is somewhat disconcerting in light of the events that drove him out of San Antonio. The Clippers are mere games away from the Finals right now. Who knows when that will be the case again?
Few players have ever matched those stakes with the performance of a lifetime. James in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals comes to mind. Kevin Durant's last three games against Milwaukee come to mind as well, though he already had two rings. George had already quieted his critics with a stellar overall postseason, but Monday's performance should shut them up for good. On the biggest stage of his career, George played the best game of his career.
It might not lead to a championship. After all, the Clippers still need two wins just to get to the Finals, and as we've covered, nobody had ever posted George's Game 5 stat line before Monday. Carrying the Clippers over the top without Leonard would be one of the most remarkable achievements in NBA history, and it's something that nobody could ever reasonably ask of George, though in our championship-obsessed sports culture, some surely will. Players rarely get partial credit.
But George deserves it no matter the outcome. Even if he never wins a championship, he played a championship-caliber game on Monday and gave his career a signature it never previously had.