Paul George thought his NBA season was over.
The 8-time NBA All Star suffered a knee injury earlier this month in a Los Angeles Clippers home loss against his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 32-year-old’s knee buckled inward as he came down hard onto the court while going up for a rebound in the fourth quarter of the March 21 contest. George landed straight-legged as he came down; he collapsed into a heap and held his knee in obvious pain.
Video from the broadcast showed George unable to put any weight on his leg as Clippers staffers helped him to the locker room. From the outside looking in, it looked as though his season was over and L.A.’s dreams of a championship were as well.
For a brief period, the future Hall-of-Famer thought his career was in peril.
“It was like that where you just close your eyes and say, ‘damn, when is it gonna stop?” George recalled as he described the pain of his injury on his podcast, Podcast P with Paul George. “It was throbbing and hurting and the only thing going through my mind was, ‘I hope I didn’t tear no major s**t.”
The two-way wing, who is widely respected across the league for his versatility, immediately feared the diagnosis that many of those watching from home dared not say aloud.
“I was like, ‘damn is this it, is this what it feels like when you tear your ACL or you tear your MCL, is this that injury right here?'” George said.
The Clippers would go on to lose that game by a single point — a tight contest between two teams vying for a berth in the NBA Playoffs. Paul George had 18 points and was a team-best +18 during the night before being helped off the court.
But the final score was the last thing anyone associated with the Clippers organization was worried about.
As he hobbled to the locker room, George worried about what doctors would say once they got a better look at his injury. He couldn’t put any pressure on his right leg, which rarely means anything other than a serious injury.
But the former Palmdale basketball star who returned to play for his hometown team in 2019 started to notice the pain receding as he got off the court.
“It was crazy. I couldn’t walk,” George said to co-host Dallas Rutherford. “But when I got back to the locker room I felt the pain go down, so I was like ‘Oh, maybe it wasn’t that bad.'”
The injury, as it turns out, was not as serious as many feared. George suffered a sprained right knee. Not ideal, but an injury that keeps a glimmer of hope for a return to a team that has heavy expectations to perform at a high level in the postseason.
The injury, the team announced last week, would sideline George for at least two weeks, probably closer to three. The Clippers have only seven games remaining in the 2022-23 regular season.
George says he’s not sure when he’ll be back on the court, but he’s doing his best to stay on top of his recover.
“I don’t know what my timetable is to be honest,” George said. “I’m going to do whatever I can do to shorten the process of when I can return.”
In the meantime, PG says he’s staying involved with the team and supporting his teammates from the sideline because, “who knows how long injuries take?”
The Clippers are 39-36 on the season and are currently fifth in the crowded Western Conference. Maintaining their place in the standings is critical for a team dealing with an injury to one of their most important players.
If the Clippers can secure the sixth seed or better, they’ll avoid having to defend their playoff spot in the NBA Play-In tournament, which begins several days earlier than the formal tip-off to the NBA Playoffs.
For George, whose injury timeline will take him down to the wire, each extra day of rest is critical.
For his teammates, the remaining seven games on the regular season calendar are just as important. It’s the most hotly contested playoff race in NBA history and each loss down the stretch could be the difference between a few more days of rehab, or venturing into the playoffs as an undermanned underdog — or worse.
Paul George is no stranger to career-altering injuries. The most serious of which happened on one of the biggest stages of his career during an exhibition for the United States Men’s Basketball team. The NBA’s Most Improved player suffered a compound fracture to his leg while competing for a spot on the 2014 FIBA World Cup Basketball roster.
That injury put a dark shadow over what appeared to be a superstar career in the making. For his part, George bounced back and regained the form that made him an All Star.
Encouragement from that injury recovery, as well as future injuries came from another Los Angeles basketball legend.
“Kobe (Bryant), when I broke my leg, was a mentor through that process and was like, ‘attack rehab like you’re practicing, like you’re working out, that’s how you have to attack rehab.’ So that’s just how I look at it,” George said. “Every time I’m hurt, ‘alright, boom what do I gotta do? Let’s go do it.’ I’m going to go as hard as I can and give myself the best chance.”
With the NBA Playoffs quickly approaching and his status up in the air, how George attacks rehab might be the difference between another disappointing season for the Clippers or finally cashing in on the championship promises made when the team was assembled just four years ago.