The Los Angeles Clippers saw their seven-game win streak go up in smoke Friday night, losing a slugfest to the Philadelphia 76ers 106-103 despite getting 37 points from star forward Paul George.
In what could be a preview of the NBA Finals, with the look and feel of something from the NBA’s pre-pandemic days (i.e., raucous fans in the crowd), the loss was certainly disappointing from an L.A. perspective, but not wholly unexpected.
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The Sixers came in with the best record in the East (third overall), the second-best home record in the league behind Utah, and, perhaps most crucially, the Clippers were once again without their other superstar, Kawhi Leonard, who missed his fourth straight game as the team weighs the cost/benefit of resting his lingering sore right foot.
Quite simply, you can’t win ‘em all, especially without one of the best players in the league.
But what really got the goat of the L.A. faithful was not anything the Sixers did or said, but rather a highly misleading stat about George that ESPN flashed on-screen in the waning moments of the game.
The Smell Test Says No
Down three with 9.8 seconds remaining in the fourth, the Clippers emerged from a timeout with possession of the ball and a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer.
As the Clippers set up their inbounds formation, ESPN cameras zoomed in on George and flashed a stat asserting that, for his career, George was “6-50 on game-tying or go-ahead FG attempts in 4th QTR or OT.”
Of course, many NBA fans are aware of George’s end-of-game shooting struggles throughout his career, but even so, the ESPN stat right away didn’t pass the smell test.
ESPN really showed a fake stat about Paul George on National TV.
— Guru (@DrGuru_) April 17, 2021
George is in his 11th season and has been more or less the No. 1 or No. 2 shooting option for nine of those campaigns, be it with the Pacers, Thunder or Clippers. To say that over all that time, 783 games, he’s only attempted a grand total of 50 shots in the fourth quarter or overtime with a chance to tie or take the lead, was immediately deemed implausible and Internet sleuths quickly sprang into action, many insisting that ESPN had flat out lied.
Okay so I can confirm that these are literally made up numbers by “The Worldwide Leaders in Sports” (ESPN)…. pic.twitter.com/HtSovmBZPL
— Lightskin Phil Dunphy 🇸🇴 (@adanadelmi) April 17, 2021
Turns out, ESPN didn’t exactly make up the stat from thin air, but they did omit several key variables.
ESPN Was Only off by 120
As illustrated by a video from Twitter user Joey Linn (@joeylinn) via Basketball-Reference’s Stathead feature, ESPN failed to mention that their stat was comprised of shots only taking place in the final 20 seconds of a game and that they only involved regular-season games. (Linn found that George was actually 6-51, not 6-50.)
I did an investigation on ESPN’s supposed fake Paul George stat, and here’s what I found.
They didn’t make it up, but they removed A LOT of context that made for a wildly misleading and inaccurate graphic. pic.twitter.com/IUZTE1zJiL
— Joey Linn (@joeylinn_) April 17, 2021
That means ESPN disregarded not only the other 11 minutes and 40 seconds of every fourth quarter George has ever played in, let alone all five minutes of every overtime, but they also left out his 89 playoff games. According to Linn, had ESPN actually stuck to the broad parameters of their stat, they would have shown that out of 378 attempts, George has made 126 fourth-quarter and overtime shots to either tie or take the lead, in the regular season and playoffs.
At 33.3%, 126-for-378 is still not exactly flattering for George, but it’s a far cry from the 12.0% that ESPN tried to represent. (For what it’s worth, George is overall 1006-for-2431, or 41.4%, on fourth quarter and overtime field goals in his career.)
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Marcus Morris, not George, ended up taking the Clippers’ final shot against Philly. It missed left.
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