Paul George vs. Thunder: An old friend or new enemy?
In the 90-88 Clippers victory over the Thunder last night at the Staples Center, we got our first look at Paul George since the trade. During pregame warm-ups, I was able to get an up close view of the brand new shoulders George claimed to have. His motion looked a lot more fluid; he wasn’t grasping at all and there was no sports tape like we saw him use late last season down the stretch.
George was showered with loud cheers pregame. There were quite a few Thunder fans in the Los Angeles crowd, many with uneasy looks on their faces.
“What could’ve been?”
This was the first time I’ve seen George in live action in a uniform other than OKC. He looked healthy, unlike last April, when his arms were basically falling off. George came out firing, hitting his first three shots and giving OKC fits defensively.
After that 3-3 start, a timeout and the adjustments would throw George off. Billy Donovan threw different defenders at him and that seemed to work out, as George was forced into a few turnovers. Chris Paul was one of the players who would take the challenge of guarding George. Thunder fans might reminisce about the times CP3 guarded Kevin Durant in the 2014 playoffs. Paul is pesky on defense. He may not be the tallest, but he is very smart as Donovan often has alluded too.
I applaud Donovan’s in-game adjustment, as George had gotten going early in each of his games after returning from injury. We’ve seen in the past that if you allow him to get into a rhythm, he is as good as it gets. He finished the half making just one of his last five shots, and made some poor choices with the ball.
George didn’t see much action in the third quarter, making one of only two shots. But the Thunder’s third quarter struggles continued even without George playing much. Montrezl Harrell picked up the slack–there is no way the Clippers win this game without him.
George gets the win
The game became a back-and-forth battle in the fourth quarter. The Thunder would make a few shots, the Clippers would respond. Each time you thought OKC was down and out, they would fight back as they have in most games this season.
George would ultimately pick his game back up in the fourth quarter hitting two clutch 3-point shots, one which turned out to be the game winner. It was a beautifully designed play, one that I felt coming. The screen was set perfectly and George did the rest to bury his former team.
In the postgame locker room comments, Chris Paul was asked about that play. He took accountability for it, saying that’s on him and that he has to fight through that screen. From my view near the Clippers’ basket, you chalk it up to a very good play call by Doc Rivers. Paul couldn’t get through that screen; Adams contesting was the best they could do there.
The Thunder dropped a tough one, but they played by far their best game on the road this season. They were very active defensively, holding a Clippers team that dropped 150 the other night to only 90. The whole team deserves credit for the job done on George. After that 3-3 start from the field, he went 3-9 and 1-5 from 3-point land before the big shot to win the game.
On the other side was the prized possession the Thunder received in the George trade: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. His game was marred by early foul trouble and he spent most of the game in and out of the lineup. When he was on the floor, he seemed hesitant because he didn’t want to pick up another foul. I asked SGA postgame about how tough it is to get a rhythm going when you get in foul trouble.
I have no hatred for George. He moved on, the Clippers were desperate, and the Thunder received a lot in return. This is a case where both teams “won” a trade. OKC received a lot of assets and LA now has a big-time duo for a win-now scenario. Chris Paul had some glowing remarks about Darius Bazley after the game, who is part of the bright Thunder future.
There will be mixed reviews for George when he returns to Oklahoma City. There will be boos, there will be cheers. But as tough as it is to watch him play well for another team, I believe his trade request will end up benefiting the Thunder in the future. We just need to be patient. It’s easy to judge a trade to a team that’s built to win now like LA (or last year’s Thunder), but the future is yet to be settled.
Ride that storm.