Paul George was so close to being the LA Clippers’ saving grace in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns. After struggling from the field for most of the game, he got himself hot in crunch time and scored 8 of the Clippers’ final 12 points, including a dagger that gave his team a 103-102 lead with 22.2 seconds left in the game.
Things seemed to go according to plan after that shot, as clamp-down defense from Patrick Beverley then forced Devin Booker into a turnover with 9.3 seconds left in the game.
The Clippers got exactly what they wanted after that turnover, as they got the ball to George, who immediately got fouled by Mikal Bridges, giving him a chance to make it three-point game with 8.2 seconds left.
With Game 2 on the line, in one of the biggest moments of his career, George blew it. He bricked both free throws, allowing the Suns to get possession and immediately use their final time-out.
The Clippers again played smothering defense, forcing Phoenix to take a bad three-pointer that clanked off the rim, bounced out of bounds and gave the Suns only 0.9 seconds on the clock.
However, what happened next will become part of the NBA Playoffs highlights reels for the next few decades.
Monty Williams drew up an unbelievable play that had Devin Booker play the decoy and then set a screen for DeAndre Ayton in the paint, and Ayton made the most of his chance by dunking the ball and giving his team the lead. That ended up being the game-winner, made possible thanks to George not extending the lead.
Ayton finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds on 12 of 15 shooting, as he continues to wreak havoc on all comers in the playoffs. Booker finished with 20 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists but struggled with his shot as he went 5 of 16 from the field. Cameron Payne had a career game with 29 points and 9 assists, and was another unsung hero for Phoenix.
However, eyes will inevitably turn toward George, who had started to shine again after Kawhi Leonard’s injury. He finished with 26 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists but went 1 of 8 from the line, and 5 of 10 from the charity stripe.
His scoring run toward the end of the game could have been legendary. But basketball can be a cruel game, especially in the playoffs, and he went from hero to zero with those two misses.
Now, the Clippers are staring at a 0-2 series deficit. They came so close to stealing the victory. They’ll have to regroup and focus on Game 3, and as they showed in the last two rounds, they’re more than capable of coming back strong.
One thing’s for sure. George isn’t going to be able to get good night’s sleep. DeAndre Ayton sure will, though.