Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George said his struggles during the 2020 NBA playoffs provided intense motivation as he prepared for the 2020-21 season.
"I'm coming back with vengeance," George told reporters after Friday's win over the Sacramento Kings. "I didn't like, not so much of the noise and everything around [the way last season ended], but just the fact that people saw weakness. And I had to address that. I had to answer that. That fueled me. That put me in a place where I wanted to come back and be myself again."
George, who averaged 25 points on 43 percent shooting across his previous five trips to the playoffs with the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder, put up just 20.2 points per game while shooting 39.8 percent from the field across 13 postseason appearances for the Clippers in the bubble.
In addition, he scored just 10 points against the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals as L.A. was eliminated after blowing a 3-1 series lead.
George is off to a promising start to the current campaign in the wake of that collapse. He's averaging 25.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 4.3 threes while making a career-high 50.3 percent of his shots through 12 games.
Those numbers are closer to his performance during the 2018-19 season in OKC, when he finished third in MVP voting. It's helped the Clippers post a 9-4 record to sit second in the West behind the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers (11-3).
"After the tough year last year, it was the only way I could respond," George said Friday. "I immediately went straight to a dark place of where I just, I had nothing but to get better. That was the only thing on my mind, and the only thing was to get better. Almost two years removed from having my shoulders operated on. ... So I am just in a healthier mind state. I am in a healthier place."
The Clippers' shocking exit against the Nuggets led to an offseason overhaul. Head coach Doc Rivers stepped down and was replaced by Tyronn Lue. Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell headlined the roster departures, with Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum among the additions.
Los Angeles' foundation of George and Kawhi Leonard remained in place, though. If the Clips are going to chase down a championship, they need both of their cornerstones playing at an MVP level, especially with the Brooklyn Nets firmly in the title conversation after James Harden's addition.
The early signs are promising—even more so in terms of George's offensive efficiency—but the story of the Clippers' season will be dependent on their playoff performance.
For now, the focus is on the short term as L.A. returns to action Sunday, when it tips off a four-game homestand against the Pacers.