The unique thing about nicknames in sports is that there is usually a story behind it.
In the early 2000s after giving the Los Angeles Lakers buckets, Shaquille O'Neal dubbed Paul Pierce as 'The Truth.' That same nickname is fitting 20 years later. As we have witnessed, some nicknames are so profound that it can overshadow the person's real name. Having that alter ego typically takes the athlete’s game to a new level.
Insert Paul George a.k.a. 'Playoff P.'
In an interview during the 2018 NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers star gloated about a nickname he gave to himself while he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Fast-forward two years later, a lot hasn't changed. There is no cool story about how his moniker came into fruition. We know PG very well – the one who overcame a devastating injury to return to All-Star form – but we are still waiting to meet 'Playoff P.'
No matter what he is called, his talents on the hardwood are profound. There are no holes in George's game. At 6-foot-9 he can score at will and is an elite defender. The optics show that he is a near perfect basketball player, but oddly enough he has yet to reach superstar status.
Now is the time, but is he up for the challenge?
The postseason is where legends are made. In baseball, Reggie Jackson was called Mr. October because of dominance in the World Series. In football, Tom Brady is celebrated as the greatest of all-time because of his six Super Bowl rings, and in basketball, the same can be said for Michael Jordan. There's nothing wrong with regular-season success, but when the playoffs come around it shows who can take their game and team to new heights.
George has yet to do that, but he has the perfect opportunity right in front of him. As the playoffs kick off in the NBA Bubble, all eyes will be on the other team in L.A., particularly PG. Kawhi Leonard has two NBA championships and two Finals MVPs while Doc Rivers has a championship ring as a head coach, leaving George as the biggest name with something to prove for his team.
His career postseason averages of 20.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game are nearly identical to his career regular-season stats. Yes, there are some great games within his playoff career, but he has yet to have his signature moment similar to his teammate Kawhi, the Lakers' LeBron James or the late Kobe Bryant.
The problem with George is consistency. At times he can look like a top-five player and then he can disappear when it matters most. In 76 playoff games, George has 27 games where he scored 15 points or less. (Contrasted to when he's scored 30 points or more in 12 games). In 2018, when the Thunder needed him to live up to his self-created alter ego, he was outplayed by Utah's Joe Ingles and put up a dreadful five points in the elimination game in the same series.
In his days with the Pacers, he went toe-to-toe with LeBron’ Miami Heat, but again when it mattered most he did not deliver. In Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals George came up short with an 11-point showing. The following year in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals George scored just seven points as the Pacers were defeated by 23 points. At that juncture, that was the biggest game of his career and George was not ready for the moment. However, in all fairness, he was just entering his prime and he was going against peak LeBron.
In the bubble, while teams are finding their footing, this can be PG's moment to morph into the superstar that fans are clamoring for. George has exhibited qualities of a superstar and he has the skill set to do so, but we are still waiting for him to blossom into that role.
Paul George is a six-time All-Star to go along with five All-NBA nods (including one First Team), four All-NBA defensive teams, and an Olympic gold medal. When his career is over, there is no question that he will be a Hall of Famer, but due to him being so talented, it seems as if the accolades do not tell the full story about his career and what it can be. A signature playoff run would cement his legacy among the greats in his era.