Start with the bad news
With Paul George taking over late and eventually hitting the game-winner, it’s easy to forget how truly terrible this game was for the first 41 minutes. The Thunder trailed by two after the first quarter, 16 at halftime, 18 after three quarters, and faced a 20-point deficit at one point in the fourth. When George and Westbrook checked-in with 8:53 remaining, the Nets held a 97-80 lead that, honestly, felt pretty safe. After all, the Thunder shot just 38 percent in the first three quarters and Brooklyn was lights out from long range. It appeared to just be one of those nights.
Below is the Thunder’s shot chart at the point George and Westbrook checked-in down 17 with 8:53 to play. At 31-of-80 (38.8 percent), it didn’t look good.
As the story goes, the Thunder went on to outscore the Nets 39-19 in the fourth quarter, escaping with the two-point win after George’s game-winner went through the net with about three seconds remaining. OKC shot 58.3 percent in the final 12 minutes — including 6-of-10 from deep — while holding the Nets to 19 points on a 6-of-15 clip. Very much like Monday’s third quarter in Detroit (37-19 OKC), the Thunder imposed their will across a brief stretch of the game and it was enough to come away with the win.
Look — last night great fun, I admit. The last thing I want is to be a Debbie Downer about the largest comeback in franchise history/PG13’s finest game in a Thunder uniform. However, it feels important to acknowledge that the Nets have lost eight straight, dominated the Thunder for the majority of the game, and it required a magical/historic effort from PG13 to save the day. Things look good at 16-7 and in second-place in the Western Conference, but the Thunder still need to find consistency across all 48 minutes of a game. The schedule gets tougher very soon and you can’t take down the NBA’s elite with one quarter of solid basketball.
With that out of the way…
Paul George like we’ve never seen him
It’s difficult to explain exactly what Paul George accomplished last night in Brooklyn. Here’s a quick rundown of his monster fourth quarter:
- Entered at the 8:34 mark with the Thunder trailing by 17
- Made his first bucket at the 7:11 mark
- From the 7:11 mark on, scored 25 of his 47 points
- Shot 9-of-12 from the field
- Went 3-of-4 from long range
- Hit the first game-winning shot of his career. He was previously 0-of-14 in potential game-winning situations.
- Set the Thunder record for most points in any quarter
- Outscored Brooklyn 25-19 BY HIMSELF
It was certifiably insane.
While WHAT George did was incredible, HOW he did it was somehow even better. He was very clearly in the zone, confidently scoring in just about every way imaginable. He pulled up from three without a second thought. He attacked the rim with reckless abandon. At one point, he even appeared to defy gravity while catching a thunderous lob from Westbrook:
Unbelievably special night for an incredibly special player. Nets’ fans chanting “Not an All-Star! Not an All-Star!” at him in the first half was both factually incorrect and something he made them pay dearly for.
George is averaging a career-high 24.3 points through his first 23 games of the season — while also carrying career-best numbers in rebounding (8.1), assists (4.3), blocks (0.8), and steals (2.1). While performances like last night could probably be considered a once-in-a-career occurrence, he has been quietly playing the best basketball of his life in the early part of this season. He loudly announced it to the world by loading the Thunder on his back on Wednesday night.
Bad Russ, Good Russ
After last night’s 21-15-17 triple-double that gave him third-most all-time, Westbrook is — believe it or not — averaging a triple-double. Again. His current line is 22.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 10 assists in the 15 games he’s played. It’s like clockwork.
However, it hasn’t all been grand. Westbrook is shooting just 22.4 percent from long range on nearly 5.1 attempts per game — one more per game than last season. His 22.7 points per game are the lowest since his injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign. He’s also shooting a career-low 63 percent from the free throw line and, as always, has shown an ability to let his aggressive shot selection get the best of him. That last bit almost reared its ugly head in last night’s comeback.
With George in the midst of raining fire on the Nets in the fourth quarter — he had scored OKC’s last 11 points at the time — the Nets held a 107-104 lead with 3:29 to play. Westbrook appeared to be caught up in the moment and wanted in on the action, firing an ill-advised three early in the shot clock. The ball clanked off the rim and Brooklyn pushed their lead to 109-104 on their next possession. It was a classic “WHY DID YOU SHOOT THAT, RUSS?!” moment for Thunder fans.
However, to his credit, Westbrook regained his composure and didn’t start chasing shots as time was seemingly running out. He deferred almost entirely to George from that point forward, as PG13 scored his final seven points after the Westbrook miss — taking four shots to Westbrook’s one. The game-winner was an exorcism of demons for them both.
Before the ball was inbounded on the final play, I don’t know that anyone watching — even with George looking like MJ — expected Westbrook not to take the shot. I even said to my fiancée, “Russ is going to shoot this and he’s going to do it from about four feet beyond the three-point line.”
But he didn’t.
Westbrook drew the double-team after receiving the ball, then easily flipped it over to George — who was just one slight pump-fake away from being wide open for a look at the game-winner.
With one shot, George put an end to the “Paul George can’t make the big buckets” narrative. More importantly, Westbrook showed trust in his co-star in the biggest moment of the game. As you know, watching from the backseat has never been his strong suit. It fit him just fine last night in Brooklyn.
While I think the “Russ has changed!” and “Westbrook 2.0” think pieces are yet a little premature, it feels safe to say there’s something going on with Westbrook’s mentality. Outside of the missed three-pointer at the 3:29 mark that felt like it would be a bigger issue than it ultimately was, Westbrook took just two shots in the fourth and didn’t turn the ball over after halftime. There may be speedbumps, but progress is being made.
This Thunder team isn’t perfect — but the idea that they’re having a lot of fun is very believable.
Westbrook’s dagger to beat the Nuggets in 2016-17 aside, have we ever seen a Thunder team celebrate like this after a regular season game? It’s especially encouraging considering how awkward things felt all of last season. And while I’m not sure if liking one another is what will eventually push OKC over the top, celebratory mosh pits are at least preferable to the drama we’ve seen up in Oakland over the last few weeks. This OKC squad is enjoying themselves for the first time in recent memory and it makes them much easier to root for.
The Thunder social media team is off to their best season in franchise history. They’ve been putting out great video recaps called “The 48” after every game. The latest is absolutely worth your time.