Paul George hurts his leg late, Clippers can’t get last shot in loss to Thunder

The back hallway inside Arena that overlooks the home and locker rooms is often a lively place, as employees line up for post-game food and players exchange high fives with executives exiting the building.

By 10 p.m. Tuesday, the season was deadlocked as the Clippers wondered if they were more than one game away from a postseason berth.

A half-hour earlier, with 4 minutes, 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter, All-Star forward Paul George’s right knee buckled and he leaned backward when he landed after grabbing a rebound against Oklahoma City’s Luguentz Dort.

George collapsed on the court and lay there for minutes as teammates surrounded him while medical staff knelt. He walked off the court without putting weight on his leg, a staff member helped him carry him to the locker room under each shoulder.

Before head coach Tyronn Lue met with reporters after the 101-100 loss, he met with team executives in the hallway outside the locker room. George was still being re-evaluated, Lue said. George was carried off the field in the back of a cart, his right leg stretched out.

If George, who has struggled with right knee discomfort this season but declared himself healthy as ever earlier this month, misses time, the Clippers’ postseason aspirations would have to be re-evaluated, even as a star of George’s caliber is hard to replace. , as well as one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. He had averaged 28.3 points, six rebounds and five assists in his previous seven games entering Tuesday, a streak that included a 5-2 record.

“Next man up,” star forward Kawhi Leonard said.

The Clippers suffered another blow on their final possession when Leonard grabbed a defensive rebound with 21 seconds left and dribbled up court with a Thunder ahead of him.

Leonard was unable to overcome Dort’s strong defense, the ball never left Leonard’s hands as he struggled to find space. His shot attempt was dropped after the final buzzer, and Leonard called for a foul.

“They ground it to shreds,” Leonard said. “Another explanation is that we don’t open the word between us. … I will own it. I should definitely get a shot.’

Leonard finished with 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, while George had 18 points with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends Oklahoma City Thunder’s Aaron Wiggins (21) during the first half Tuesday at Arena.

(Ringo HW Chiu/Associated Press)

The Clippers are 38-35, one game behind fourth-place Phoenix, and Oklahoma City is 36-36 in seventh, a game and a half behind the Clippers, who have won for the third time in as many tries.

Four years after the Clippers traded for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who also secured Leonard’s free agency signature to facilitate the George deal, Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points to lead the Thunder.

The Clippers’ start signaled that they understood the importance of the game. A team that has found itself playing from behind while adjusting to three new rotation players — the Clippers have a negative net rating in the first quarter since the All-Star break — seized control on sheer force. Within four minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander’s dribble was taken away three times by the men on the other side of the trade, George and Leonard, the final turnover leading to a huge slam on Russell Westbrook, who created an All-American role a decade ago. – Star Thunder cutting edge.

The burst of defensive energy resulted in an 18-4 lead. And when he disappeared, and the Clippers missed 11 straight shots, Oklahoma City responded with a 19-4 run.

By halftime, the Clippers had five and key players.

In the midst of a wild shooting display — the Clippers starters didn’t make a three-pointer in the first half, Leonard and George made five of 16 shots and the team missed eight of 15 free throws — the Clippers also suffered the loss of Terance. Mann. The backup quarterback was ejected by official Curtis Blair with 4:24 left in the half after a series of quick-fire technical fouls.

According to the official, Mann hurled profanities at him, upset that one of Leonard’s drives and scores didn’t earn a foul call — Leonard, who also got a technical, said the official later apologized — but the technicals were given so quickly. teammates were wide-eyed as Mann headed for the tunnel and the locker room, ending his night after eight points in 11 minutes.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s 1,451 shots this season led to a league-high 338 free-throw attempts, and after initial attempts came up short against the aggressive defense of Leonard and George, he began to solve the defensive puzzles with 12 points. third quarter — including five baskets inside the paint.

Most importantly, as he helped the Clippers into the fourth, he quickly overcame concerns about George’s departure.

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