Paul George and Clippers rally to defeat Cleveland Cavaliers

Paul George was ill.

His co-star was injured.

His team had lost four games in a row, and as George and the Clippers sat at his locker on Oct. 30, they looked run-down after just six games in a season they had hoped would be a joyride.

“It starts with me,” George said. “I have to get better, I have to do better.”

If three-week seasons can have turning points, that qualifies. George kicked the ailment and once he was able to breathe again, his team was able to take their first deep breath while posting a moderate turnaround in a 3-1 win on Monday. George averaged 32.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals during that span to earn Western Conference Player of the Week honors.

“Once I could really loosen up my body and start breathing a little bit better, I could just transfer everything to playing well, being aggressive and having an attacking mentality,” George said Sunday after scoring 34 points in a loss to Utah. “So that was really just the change I made. It was just about getting healthy again.”

George continued to deliver at Arena Monday, amassing 18 first-half points against Cleveland before leading the Clippers to a 119-117 win at 26.

The Clippers are still difficult to classify after 10 games. A contender with growing pains? A team whose inability to stay healthy enough to develop a rhythm will ultimately haunt them in the spring postseason? Their lineups, rotations and circumstances weren’t what they expected to leave training camp with a fully healthy squad, and coach Tyronn Lue, who normally makes lineup changes after a sample size of 10 games, isn’t making comprehensive ones with one anytime soon Changes before unstable data set for analysis.

But even before Kawhi Leonard felt a stiffness in his right knee in late October and had him sidelined in his last eight games and had no timeline for a return publicly offered by the team, Lue had asked George to play like he was No Scoring option, Leonard or not. And if there’s one takeaway that feels strong in the first three weeks despite the uncertainty, it’s that George seems to be the goalscorer the Clippers need all the time.

Clippers forward Norman Powell (left) shoots in the second half of Monday's Clippers victory.

Clippers forward Norman Powell (left) shoots in the second half of Monday’s Clippers victory.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

George blew through the paint for a first-half dunk with the speed he lacked while ill. After halftime, George stepped back downcourt on his sixth try after his fifth three-pointer while looking up the front row of courtside seats until he wrapped his backward path into a timeout cow.

The most optimistic reading of Monday’s performance was that for the second straight game, George wasn’t the only one to carry the Clippers’ 29th offense, which hit in efficient bundles in the first quarter, which they finished with eight threes. For the first time in Lue’s three seasons as coach, he has a healthy Marcus Morris Sr. available since training camp began, and Morris averaged 14.8 points while making 60% of his shots from inside the arc – a number it is A full 10 percentage points higher than his career high four years ago — and 36% beyond that.

Slowed down by a stubborn knee in each of the last two seasons – including missing a full month to start last season after playing healthy for just a handful of games, a cautious approach worth remembering as a comparison for that how the team has dealt with Leonard’s return to play early in the season – Morris entered training camp after losing around a dozen pounds and has often proved to be the Clippers’ first option in the first quarter.

“As we’re struggling to hit the basketball, he was one of the guys who shot the ball well and was able to post it a bit to slow the game down,” Lue said.

There was also Reggie Jackson on Monday, who started despite sustaining a bruise to his left thigh the previous night, and despite two early turnovers that started Cleveland’s quick breaks, he shot on rhythm and shot better for much of the time than 50% night.

Substitute Luke Kennard, who had not played in San Antonio since Friday’s first quarter after suffering only chest discomfort, was not restricted by a minute limit on Monday’s return, ultimately playing just 13 minutes. The team learned he would be available after the shootaround and chose not to change the starting lineup they had already used during the walk-through, which included Terance Mann as the shooting guard in place of Kennard. Lue said matchups will dictate how he fills the starting two guards role — until Kawhi Leonard is healthy enough to take the job back — and Cleveland’s backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland meet criteria for Mann’s defensive versatility. Paul George and Clippers rally to defeat Cleveland Cavaliers

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