The Clippers were hoping to end this season with an unprecedented high.
Those dreams of winning the franchise’s first NBA title seemed in jeopardy, however, as the team faced an all-too-familiar reality: a star player sidelined at a critical moment.
The Clippers and Paul George appear to have avoided the worst case scenario with his right knee injury, however. 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, leaning backward, after landing on a defensive rebound with 4 minutes, 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 101-100 loss at Crypto.com Arena in Oklahoma City.
The loss was just as damaging – it dropped the Clippers to fifth place in the Western Conference at 38-35, but gave Oklahoma City, which is just a game and a half back, a season-tying tiebreaker to lose George. The team surface, then the locker room is empty and the corridors of the arena are almost silent.
George left the arena in the back of a cart, walking on his right leg, assisted by a Clippers medical staff. Coach Tyronn Lue walked slowly toward the exit a few minutes later, head down, talking to one of the team’s executives.
“I really hope he’s OK,” forward Nicolas Batum said late Tuesday, as the team remained unclear on the extent of the injury. “That’s my main concern right now.”
The team was cautious about managing his workload early in the season due to unspecified issues with his previous knee, but as recently as March 8, George revealed that he has improved himself greatly.
“I feel like I can do anything and everything I want to do,” George said at the time.
Now the situation has changed dramatically. Ahead of Tuesday night’s uncertainty, waiting for George to be tested, stars Batum and Kawhi Leonard pointed to roster depth should George miss time.
Backup Norman Powell, who has not played since injuring his left shoulder on March 2, “will be back soon,” Batum said. Protecting forward Robert Covington, Batum and Marcus Morris Sr. this season. rarely used on the depth chart behind the forwards, he can fill some three-point and defensive gaps.
But there are only nine games left in the regular season and a team with little continuity in the lineup will be forced into another phase of adjustment.
“We have to overcome it, you, especially for him,” said Batum. “We have to concentrate on what we have on the court. You know, we’ve got good guys, great players anyway, so we’ve been there before. A group that has been there before us”.
Clippers forward Paul George is on the sidelines after suffering a right knee injury against Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
(Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
Batum spoke from experience, having seen each of the past three seasons derailed by injuries.
In 2021, Leonard suffered a season-ending partial anterior cruciate ligament tear in his knee in the second round of the playoffs against Utah. The Clippers won the series to advance to the franchise’s first Western Conference finals, but their loss to Phoenix after additional injuries to center Ivica Zubac and forward Marcus Morris Sr. deepened roster attrition.
With Leonard missing the entire 2021-22 season due to recovery, George started hot as the team’s No. 1 option — suffering 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 championship game, which turned out to be a season-ending loss.
Now that the Clippers have started to find their stride, having won five of their last six games entering Tuesday, the roster and midseason additions Russell Westbrook, Mason Plumlee and Eric Gordon have started to decline…another significant setback.
“We still have a group of guys that want to win, that love 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 making 37 percent from three. He averaged 25.8 points since the All-Star break in mid-February and 28.3 over his last six games as the Clippers, fueled by the improved health of George and Leonard, went 5-1 to regain momentum as potential champions. .
“We still have a good coach, a good team, so of course PG is a big key for us,” Batum said. “If we have to spend time without him, we just have to go out there and win some games.”