The Clippers expected this season to end on an unprecedented note.
However, those dreams of winning the franchise’s first NBA title seemed to be in jeopardy as the team is faced with an all-too-familiar reality: a sidelined star player at a critical time.
However, the Clippers and Paul George seem to have avoided the worst case scenario with his right knee injury. The team says imaging determined the All-Star forward suffered a sprained right knee and will be re-evaluated in 2-3 weeks.
George’s right knee buckled, bending backwards, after he landed on a defensive rebound with 4 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 101-100 loss to Oklahoma City at Crypto.com Arena.
As damaging as the loss was, it left the Clippers’ record at 38-35 for fifth place in the Western Conference, but it gave Oklahoma City, which is just 1 1/2 games away, the tiebreaker of the series of the season: the possibility of losing George had thrown an after, the locker room was deserted and the corridors of the arena almost silent.
George rode out of the arena in the back of a wagon, his right leg stretched out as he rode, accompanied by a Clippers medical staff member. He left minutes after coach Tyronn Lue walked slowly toward the same exit, head down, as he spoke to one of the team’s executives.
“I really hope he’s okay,” forward Nicolás Batum said Tuesday night, as the extent of the injury was unclear to the team. “That’s my main concern right now.”
The team had been careful to manage their workload earlier in the season due to unspecified previous issues with his knee, but as recently as March 8, George had stated that he had improved a lot.
“I feel like I can do anything and everything I want to do,” George had said then.
Now the situation has changed dramatically. Faced with uncertainty Tuesday night as they waited for George to undergo tests, Batum and star Kawhi Leonard pointed to the depth of the roster in case George had to waste time.
Backup guard Norman Powell, who hasn’t played since injuring his left shoulder on March 2, “will be back very soon,” Batum said. Backup forward Robert Covington, used rarely this season behind forwards Batum and Marcus Morris Sr. on the depth chart, could fill some of the defense and 3-point void.
But there are only nine games left in the regular season and a team with little continuity in its lineup will be forced to go through another adjustment phase.
“We have to get over it, you have to, especially for him,” Batum said. “We have to stay focused on who we have on the court. You know, we’ve got good guys, great players anyway, so we’ve been there before. A team that has been there before is us.”
Batum spoke from experience, having seen each of the past three seasons derailed by injury.
In 2021, Leonard suffered a season-ending partial torn ACL in a knee during a second-round playoff series against Utah. The Clippers won the series to advance to the franchise’s first Western Conference finals, but lost to Phoenix after additional injuries to center Ivica Zubac and forward Marcus Morris Sr. deepened the wear and tear on the roster.
With Leonard missing the entire 2021-22 season due to his recovery, George started as the team’s first choice, only to suffer a strained elbow ligament that sidelined him for three months. George returned in late March and played six games, but entered the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols on the day of the team’s second and final entry tournament game, which turned into a late-season loss.
Now, just as the Clippers had begun to find their groove after winning five of their last six games before Tuesday, the roster and its midseason additions Russell Westbrook, Mason Plumlee and Eric Gordon began to come together. another significant setback.
“We have a group of guys who still want to win, who like to play basketball, so we’ll see what happens,” Leonard said Tuesday.
George earned his eighth All-Star selection this season averaging 23.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 37% of his 3-pointers. Since the All-Star break in mid-February, he has averaged 25.8 points and 28.3 points in his last six games as the Clippers, buoyed by the improving health of George and Leonard, went to a 5-1 record for restore momentum as potential title contenders. .
“We still have a good manager, a good team, so of course PG is a big key for us,” Batum said. “If we have to go any time without him, we just have to go out there and win a few games.”