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USA TODAY

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The shots kept clanking off the rim. Less than a week later, they finally dropped into the basket.

The Los Angeles Clippers secured a 154-111 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series largely because George scored 35 points while shooting efficiently from the field (12-of-18), 3-point range (4-of-8) and the free-throw line (7-of-7). That marked drastic improvement from what he showed from the field in Game 2 (4-of-17), Game 3 (3-of-16) and Game 4 (3-of-14).

“I just wasn’t there,” George said. “I checked out. Games 2, 3, 4, I felt like I wasn’t there.”

George wilting under playoff pressure? George experiencing issues with his surgically repaired shoulders? Clippers coach Doc Rivers failing to draw enough plays for him? The Mavericks defending George too tightly. No, no, no and no. Instead, George said his issues had nothing to do with X’s and O’s.

“It was just a little bit of everything. I underestimated mental health, honestly,” George said. “I had anxiety, a little bit of depression. Just being locked in here.”

George declined to go into detail. He offered some revealing clues, though. He highlighted the challenges of playing on the NBA campus away from family. He also conceded the difficulty with playing in empty arenas after spending his whole NBA career hearing cheers and boos from the stands.

So, George said he spoke with a team psychiatrist, and leaned on his parents, girlfriend and children for support. Following the Clippers’ Game 4 loss to Dallas on Sunday that ended with Luka Doncic’s game-winning 3-pointer, Rivers said he had “a long talk” with George in his room that he said had little to do with basketball. Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell played video games with George to cheer him up. Other teammates advised George to ignore social media.

“Shout out to the people that was in my corner, people that gave me the words,” George said. “They helped big time about getting me right back in great spirits. Can’t thank them enough.”

Boy did it make a difference in George’s performance. He became the first player in the shot clock era to have at least 35 points in under 25 minutes played in a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. George had increased defensive responsibilities on Doncic, who labored with 22 points on only a 6-of-17 clip and five turnovers amid swarming defenses and an injured left ankle. And George played through the Mavericks’ aggressive defense.

“All of my guys  showed up for me. They helped me,” George said. “They were there when I needed them. I’m indebted to this team. The energy, the synergy, the camaraderie, the brotherhood. I can’t thank this squad enough.”

The Clippers extended their series lead to 3-2 for reasons beyond George’s bounce-back performance. Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard also had 32 points, seven rebounds and four assists, marking the fourth consecutive playoff game he had at least 30 points. The Mavericks also missed center Kristaps Porzingis for the second consecutive game because of right knee soreness.

But with George’s shooting struggles and Patrick Beverley’s continuous absence with a sore left calf, the Clippers could only lean on Leonard for any consistent production. The Clippers still lauded George for his effort level and defensive commitment. Rivers expressed confidence that George would eventually make his shots. And both Rivers and George’s teammates abstained from giving advice to a six-time NBA All-Star.

“Just shoot a lot and just keep being him,” Rivers said before the game. “I’ve been through it as a player as well. You probably get so much advice. I can’t imagine in this damn time when everybody can reach you. When I was player and struggled, you would get the phone call, but you only had one phone in your house. You didn’t have a cell phone. That was awesome. You could just answer the one phone. I can’t imagine in this damn time with social media. There are so many ways guys can get access to your players. I can’t imagine the advice he’s getting so I hope he’s not listening.”

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Still, the Clippers entered the NBA playoffs as one of the contending favorites because they have Kawhi Leonard, George and a whole lot of bench depth. They did not acquire George from Oklahoma City for a young prospect (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), a dependable veteran (Danilo Gallinari) and three first-round draft picks (2022, 2024, 2026) just so George could become a decent role player. They traded for George because they knew it would convince Leonard to leave the Toronto Raptors after winning an NBA title there. And the Clippers knew Leonard would leave the Raptors because he thought George would give him a shot at collecting another ring.

Hence, it was not surprising the Clippers opened the first play of the game with Leonard connecting with George for an open jumper. Nearly three hours later, George became the two-way player the Clippers recognized for most of this season.

“I just walked into a different place,” George said. “I don’t want to go into the details, but I got into a different place, a different mentality, different mindset and found myself.”

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