Paul George exits early in LA Clippers’ win over Pistons

LA Clippers star Paul George left Thursday night’s game vs the Detroit Pistons early after suffering a supposed hamstring injury.

The LA Clippers added another tally to the win column Thursday night, defeating the short-handed Detroit Pistons by a final of 126-112. Paul George was a key contributor in the first half, recording 12 points, three rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes of action. In terms of efficiency, it was the best he’d looked since mid-December.

George has been incredibly streaky for the last two weeks, averaging just 5.3 makes per game. During that stretch, he’s shot an ice-cold 31.7 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three-point range.

To make matters worse, George left Thursday night’s contest roughly halfway through the second quarter, which was initially reported to be due to a tweaked hamstring. He wouldn’t return to the floor, though the Clippers hardly needed him in the second half. LA outscored Detroit 37-16 in the third and led by as many as 31 points before it was over.

The LA Times’ Andrew Greif asked Doc Rivers about George’s injury after the game, which is where some of the concern regarding his status stems from:

George’s back wasn’t known to be an issue during the game, which raises a few questions. Considering he hasn’t looked quite like himself lately, it’s easy to wonder about how long this has been going on. It would certainly explain his streak of off-nights.

But if the Clippers knew he was dealing with some “tightness” — enough to alter the way he plays the game — why wouldn’t they just hold him out of a few games?

LA hasn’t been shy about load management, and the expectation for George coming into the season was that he would rest to some degree, especially as he worked his way back from the two shoulder surgeries he underwent this past summer. Kawhi Leonard has missed nine games already due to injury/rest, and he’s been able to perform well in big games because of it.

Ideally, the Clippers will have one of George and Leonard available for each game this season. Allowing George to rest Thursday would have followed that rule — Leonard played 24 minutes, logging 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.

LA is also in the midst of a relatively easy stretch of schedule, with three games in the next week against the Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors. It’s possible that Patrick Beverley hasn’t returned from his wrist injury yet because of this.

George will be evaluated soon, and any issues will likely be addressed and handled properly. But the Clippers shouldn’t worry about rushing him back onto the floor, even if his injuries are minor. As is the case with Leonard, it’s imperative that George is in the best shape he can be when the Clippers begin their playoff run in April.

The LA Clippers will host the Grizzlies Saturday afternoon and the Knicks Sunday. It would be wise to have George sit out of one or both of those games.