Not unlike a lot of NBA superstars finishing up their 11th campaign, Clippers forward Paul George is no stranger to beefs, feuds, rivalries, what have you — getting down and dirty over the years with the likes of Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Devin Booker amongst others.
Perhaps his most crowd-pleasing feud, however, has been with Jazz sharpshooter Joe Ingles, the seemingly physique-less 6-foot-8 Australian forward who is as well known for his on-court chatter and antics as he is for draining triples.
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And, with news that Jazz starting point guard Mike Conley will miss tonight’s opener of the Western Conference semifinals against the Clippers — due to a hamstring injury that he suffered in the last game of the last round against Memphis — it seems likely that Ingles and George will get a chance to drop their proverbial gloves right from the tip.
Ingles Knows How to Get Under George’s Skin
It’s been three years since George and Ingles last locked horns in the playoffs, and though these days George is not shy about discussing his maturity and a change of mindset, there’s little to no chance that Ingles won’t still try to get under his skin throughout the series, something he did to great effect in 2018.
Back then, when George was in his first season with Oklahoma City and playing alongside Russell Westbrook, the Thunder took on Ingles and the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. It was Ingles’s fourth year with Utah but his first as a starter, and as such he drew much of the defensive duties against George.
Just looking at points, one might think that George, who averaged 24.7 a game in the series, took Ingles to the cleaners. But a deeper dive tells a far different story (not to mention the fact that Utah won in six games).
George shot only 40.8% from the floor and only 36.5% from three — both below his regular-season standard, as were his assists, which went from 3.3 during the season down to 2.7 against Utah. George’s turnovers were even more egregious, spiking to 4.0 per game in the series after averaging just 2.7 during the season.
Though Ingles and George began their dialogue early in Game 1, a 116-108 Thunder win in which George scored 30 points on 13-for-20 shooting, Ingles’ campaign of frustration was at its most effective in Games 2, 4 and 6. Over those three games, all Jazz victories, George averaged five turnovers and shot just 29.3% from the field and 22.2% from three.
As a perfect example of how Ingles plies his mind games, early in Game 4 he conspicuously crowded George on the sideline just as he was about to inbounds the ball. The move elicited a push from George which resulted in a technical foul. Ingles got a T of his own later in the first half when he tried to snatch the ball from George who had just committed an unforced backcourt violation. Ingles and George’s shenanigans set the tone for the entire game, which by the end, a 17-point Jazz victory, resembled a rugby scrum. George scored 32 points, but was only 2-for-9 from three and committed six turnovers.
By Game 6 and on the brink of elimination, George had had enough and his numbers showed. The guy who had jokingly dubbed himself “Playoff P” before the series, managed only two buckets on 16 shots and missed all six of his 3-point attempts in a series-ending 96-91 loss.
Obviously, Ingles was not checking George at all times, but when he did, the numbers were not pretty.
According to NBA.com’s Kyle Irving: “[Ingles] was matched up with George on 231 possessions, nearly three times the amount of any other play on the Jazz. Through those 231 possessions, George scored just 52 points on an abysmal 19-for-57 shooting from the field (33.3 percent) and 6-for-25 from 3-point range (24.0 percent).”
Ingles Presents a Different Look
The absence of the Conley, an All-Star this season and 8th overall in career assists among active players, is nothing the Jazz would ever hope for, but in this particular case, against a Clippers team that is especially long on the wings, having Ingles in the starting lineup over the 6-foot-1 Conley may not be the worst circumstance.
With elite rim protector and All-Defensive center Rudy Gobert manning the paint, it’s likely the Clippers will try more often than not to make things happen from mid-range and beyond, rather than putting an emphasis on driving to the basket like in the Dallas series.
Having greater length with Ingles on the perimeter could more effectively disrupt L.A.’s shooters, George amongst them, and force them into the teeth of the Gobert-led defense. Also, Conley’s diminutive stature makes him more prone to mismatches, but with Ingles, the Clippers will have one less player to hunt.
Of course, Ingles is less fleet of foot than Conley, so getting out in transition will be tougher without the latter, but that shouldn’t be much of problem given that Utah prefers the half-court game to running anyway. Ingles, however, is not nearly the playmaker that Conley is, so Utah’s scheme of driving and kicking could suffer.