It might as well have been a sigh of relief. In a candid and vulnerable postgame interview session, George admitted that his epic shooting struggles in his previous three games were in part due to his experiencing anxiety and depression inside the isolation of the NBA bubble.
After helping the LA Clippers beat the Mavericks 154-111 in franchise-record-setting fashion to take a 3-2 series lead, the six-time All-Star revealed that he was “in a dark place” during his walk-off interview with TNT.
“It was just a little bit of everything,” George later explained when asked what he meant. “I underestimated mental health, honestly. I had anxiety. A little bit of depression. Just being locked in here. I just wasn’t there. I checked out.
“Games 2, 3, 4, I wasn’t there. I felt like I wasn’t there. Shout-out to the people that were in my corner, that gave me words. They helped big time, help get me right, [get] me back in great spirits. I can’t thank them enough.”
George emerged in Game 5, hitting 12 of 18 shots, including four of eight 3-point attempts, to score more points than the 34 that he scored in Games 2, 3 and 4 combined. He did it like a player in a rush, scoring 35 points in 25 minutes to become the only player to score 35 in 25 minutes or less in the shot clock era (since 1954-55), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
After the Clippers set a franchise record for points scored in a playoff game, George’s postgame interview session with reporters seemed therapeutic for the shooting guard.
For three playoff games, George had an intense spotlight on his slump. On social media, he was relentlessly ridiculed by critics for his playoff struggles as he shot 10-for-47 in Games 2, 3 and 4, including missing 21 of 25 from behind the 3-point line. According to Elias Sports Bureau, George was the first player to shoot under 25% in three straight playoff games since Bob Cousy in 1960 (minimum 10 field goal attempts per game).
George said he has been trying to find ways to check out of basketball mode, which can be difficult to turn off inside the NBA bubble, where there is no family and the forms of recreation available can be exhausted through the several weeks there.
He said he started to feel like he was able to come out of the basketball mindset on the day of Game 5 after getting some help.
“I mean, I felt it just [at] the start [on Tuesday],” George said. “Talks with a psychiatrist, our team psychiatrist. I mean, I just felt it. My energy, my spirit was changed. That’s all it needed. That’s all I needed. I came here, I knew what my job was. Left it all on that court. Ready to move forward.”
The Clippers said they knew George wasn’t himself, that the slump had become more than shooting struggles and that it had taken a toll on his spirit and state of mind. Coach Doc Rivers said he and his guard spoke at length in the coach’s hotel room after Game 4, in which Luka Doncic beat the Clippers at the buzzer with a 3-pointer in overtime.
“This is not a normal environment, OK?” Rivers said Tuesday after the game. “It just isn’t.
“PG and I sat in my room after the game. We just had a long talk, not all about basketball, really. Several players did it. Guys were knocking on his door.”
Montrezl Harrell, who has shared that he struggled emotionally after leaving the bubble in mid-July and grieving the death of his grandmother, said he spent time Monday playing Madden 21 with his teammate.
“We just wanted to get him out of that,” Harrell said of George. “Get him out of his room, just play video games, just constantly be around him to show him that we’re here with him. I think that did a great job for him because he went out and played carefree basketball.
“That’s the best PG that we can ever have. We don’t want him thinking and inside his head because he’s already a great player. A lot of people are talking about him and saying the things about him because of his caliber of play. They know who he is. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time.”
With George feeling more like himself, the Clippers got a glimpse of how good their elite, two-way, playmaking duo can be. Kawhi Leonard scored 32 points in 30 minutes, and the Clippers’ tandem became the first pair of teammates in postseason history to each score 30 points in less than 30 minutes, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Like other teammates, Leonard spent the past several days defending and reiterating his confidence in George.
“It meant a lot,” George said of the show of support from his teammates. “… This is really hard being in here. It’s not easy. All day, it’s just basketball. It’s hard to get away from it. You see guys on other teams. Shout-out to the NBA for creating this environment, but at the same time, it’s rough.
“I just got to find what’s going to get me able to check out of the game and check out of just constantly being in that mode. All my guys helped. I’ve been around them. We’ve been out playing the game. Great talk with Doc. Again, all my family were there. My girl, Gracie, my kids, just so many people that I can name that I’ve talked to in the past 24 hours that had a helping hand in just getting me into a better spirit again.”