The NBA’s bubble has largely been a success as the league has avoided many of the pitfalls that have plagued MLB, reporting no positive tests in the past month with only a handful of players guilty of breaking quarantine. However, one of the bubble’s unintended consequences—as some had warned before play resumed in Orlando late last month—has been a crippling feeling of isolation and loneliness. Paul George admitted the anxiety and depression he’s felt being away from friends and family in the bubble contributed to his struggles early in the Clippers’ first-round series against the seventh-seeded Mavericks in the Western Conference.
The six-time All-Star returned to form with a dominant Game 5, netting 35 points—his most since the league’s resumption following a four-month coronavirus layoff—on masterful 12-of-18 shooting including 4-of-8 from long range in a convincing 154-111 win over Dallas. He accomplished those impressive numbers in just 25 minutes of court time as the Clippers’ comfortable lead, which ballooned to as many as 45 at one point, permitted George and L.A.’s other starters to take a well-deserved breather down the stretch.
George’s resurgence Wednesday night came on the heels of an anemic Game 4 that saw the 30-year-old Fresno State product sink 3-of-14 field goal tries for nine points—his first single-digit showing since February—in a losing effort. The veteran’s lackluster play in the series’ earlier installments (he shot a dismal 21.3 percent in Games 2-4) invited harsh criticism on social media with Twitter trolls lampooning Paul’s self-given nickname, “Playoff P.”
Speaking in his post-game interview with TNT’s Jared Greenburg, Paul was candid reflecting on the mental health challenges he’s faced in the bubble, acknowledging that being cooped up in Orlando for the better part of two months has not been an easy assignment.
“The bubble got the best of me. I was just in a dark place. I really wasn’t here. I checked out. These past couple games it was just difficult,” said George who, through encouragement from friends, family and Clippers teammates, was able to rally with an emphatic performance in Game 5.
“It was just a little bit of everything,” George continued in remarks made to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “I underestimated mental health, honestly. I had anxiety. A little bit of depression. Just being locked in here.”
George began to turn the corner after a session with the Clippers’ team psychiatrist on Tuesday. “My energy, my spirit was changed,” said the 6’8” wing. “That’s all I needed. I came here, I knew what my job was. Left it all on that court.”
Cognizant of George’s recent lethargy, coach Doc Rivers invited the 10-year veteran to his hotel room for a chat after the loss to Dallas in Game 4, which turned into an impromptu heart-to-heart. “PG and I sat in my room after the game,” said Rivers, who went viral with his powerful response to Jacob Blake’s shooting in Wisconsin over the weekend. “We just had a long talk, not all about basketball, really.”
“We just wanted to get him out of that,” said teammate Montrezl Harrell. “Get him out of his room, just play video games, just constantly be around him to show him that we're here with him.”
Once a taboo subject in the hyper-masculine arena of pro sports, discussion of mental health and its effect on athletes has become much more normalized in recent years with advocates like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan bringing that dialogue to the mainstream. George and the Clippers will look to close out Dallas when their series resumes Thursday night in Game 6.