LOS ANGELES — Despite scoring 12 points in under five minutes during the fourth quarter to help spark a late comeback, LA Clippers guard Paul George found himself cheering his team from the sideline as he was held out of the final 2:50 of a close game against the Brooklyn Nets due to a minutes restriction.
With George on the sideline, the Nets were able to escape Staples Center with a 112-108 win on Sunday.
Afterward, George acknowledged it was frustrating to not be able to close out the game after logging more than 32 minutes and posting 34 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his second outing since returning from a seven-game absence due to a swollen toe.
“Man, I think you know the answer to that,” George said when asked how tough it was to sit out the end.
George had said on Friday following a 116-112 win over the visiting Utah Jazz that he wasn’t ready to play 30 minutes after logging 27 minutes in his first game back after not playing in 16 days.
But George said his toe was not a factor on Sunday as he helped the Clippers cut a 15-point deficit to six before he was taken out of the game with just under three minutes remaining. In addition to hitting two 3-pointers and burying six free throws in less than a five-minute span, George also was playmaking and found Ivica Zubac for two easy baskets during that fourth-quarter stretch.
“I was ready to go,” George said. “I wanted to keep going.”
George said his toe, which was diagnosed as having a bone edema, is not at risk of becoming inflamed by playing again.
“I’m clear, I’m good to go, as of now,” George said. “It’s an afterthought. I’m healthy, and I feel good.”
Clippers coach Ty Lue explained that he started the fourth quarter with George on the floor because the game was slipping away.
“I thought the game kind of got out of hand and we had to bring him back to get the game close,” Lue said. “And he played well and played good to get us back in it, and then it’s a tough decision.”
“But the biggest thing is that he’s healthy, and the biggest thing is the player’s health. We did what we could, but it is what it is.”
Without George down the stretch, the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard scored six of his 29 points to tie the game at 108 with 28.6 seconds remaining. After Nets center DeAndre Jordan scored on a putback, Leonard drove on Nets guard James Harden and made a driving layup but was whistled for an offensive foul. At the start of the drive, Leonard appeared to try to shake Harden from grabbing his left arm. Then as Leonard gathered and went up for the layup, his left forearm made contact with Harden’s torso, and the referees called the foul.
“My take from it is if we gonna pretty much play bully ball at the end of the game, let both sides play it,” Leonard said. “But they didn’t call it, so good defense. I got grabbed early, but like I said, no call, so great defense.”
This wasn’t the first time one of the Clippers’ stars had an issue with the officiating during a close loss to the Nets. When the Nets beat the Clippers 124-120 in Brooklyn on Feb. 2, George went to the free throw line only once in 36 minutes. After the Nets’ star trio of Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving went to the foul line a combined 16 times while the Clippers as a team saw 17 total free throw attempts, George said in his postgame interview that “it was disrespectful that I had one free throw attempt.”
After this latest tightly contested loss to the Nets, George was asked how difficult it is to compete against players who sell contact on both ends of the floor to officials.
“It’s really hard, it’s really hard,” George said. “I mean, I haven’t really got into the flopping game, but in today’s game, it’s smart, you know what I mean?
“It’s smart. They control the refs. They got the refs in their pocket, so kudos to the guys who are great at that part of the game.”
Lue said there is no use in going back over the call now.
“I mean, they called it, so there’s nothing you can do about it now,” Lue said. “I’m not a big complain guy, but [someone] said [Harden] had his arm before Kawhi was able to push off and he said Harden grabbed his … I don’t know because I didn’t look at it. To me, the game’s over and nothing you can do about it, so it is what it is.”