Paul George’s huge late-game effort saves Clips from another loss

LOS ANGELES — As the LA Clippers came close to yet another demoralizing loss to a lottery team, Paul George reinforced his vow to play better by delivering a tremendous Halloween performance with a winning shot to stun the Houston Rockets.

George had 35 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 6 steals and hit two clutch shots in the last 40 seconds to lead the Clippers to a relieving 95-93 win at Arena Monday night.

In the last 25 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information Research, only James Harden (March 15, 2019) has matched the stats George put up in Monday’s game. And the Clippers (3-4) needed every bit of George’s dominant line to beat the Rockets (1-7) and catch a four-game losing streak.

“I now take full responsibility for us and our balance sheet,” said George, who also had two blocks. “Regardless of who is in the lineup and who isn’t, I’m more than capable of going out there and performing and pushing our team to the win start we’ve had so far.”

With Kawhi Leonard (stiff right knee) out for a fourth straight season and set to miss the Clippers’ next two games in Houston and San Antonio, George was staring at the likelihood of another hugely disappointing loss. The Clippers lost twice in Oklahoma City last week and had averaged just 97.5 points in their four previous losses, dropping those games by 17, 14, 8 and 21 points, respectively.

Several Clippers veterans said after Sunday’s 112-91 loss to New Orleans that they were being overplayed, not playing with enough intensity and effort, and playing with little joy. Marcus Morris Sr. said the Clippers just showed up expecting to win with the talent on their roster.

“It was a lot of weight, the style that we lost,” George said of the losing streak. “And no disrespect to the teams we’ve played against, but we’re not playing the heavyweights right now. And the way we lost those games was frankly embarrassing.”

Down 93-88 with 1:27 to go, George hit a slicing Ivica Zubac from a pick and roll for a dunk. He then buried a 26-foot pull-up 3 to tie the game by 40.2 seconds.

George then forced Eric Gordon into a critical turnover down the far end for one of his six steals before drilling a 15-foot turnaround over Gordon on the right to take the lead.

George said assistant head coach Dan Craig, who is in charge of defense for the Clippers, challenged him to be the best defensive player on the floor at the beginning and end of the game.

“After yesterday [loss to New Orleans]there was a lot of talk about being more urgent,” said George. “I have a personal challenge…the first six minutes, the last six minutes – I have to be the best player on defense.”

The Clippers struggled to start the season below championship expectations. Leonard has played in just two games and has taken just a few minutes off the bench since returning from all of last season with a cruciate ligament rupture. John Wall, ruled out of Monday’s game for the second game in a row, has a minute limit as he returns from non-playing time last season. And other veterans have been in and out of the lineup.

The Clippers have a rematch with the Rockets in Houston on Wednesday. And they could use another big game from George, who had 40 points, six rebounds and six assists in beating Sacramento in the second game of the season.

“Damn yes,” said Clippers coach Ty Lue when asked if this was the George he needed every night. “Right now, as we fight, we need everything, everyone, every point. But tonight was huge. … We need him to play at this level.”