Paul George leaned against the wall at the Oklahoma City Thunder Integris Development Center on Tuesday. His eyes were facing the floor when the Thunder communications staff waved him over to the media scrum. He knew the topic of discussion that was to come.
George’s old team, the Indiana Pacers, were coming to town. Much like his teammate Carmelo Anthony on opening night with the New York Knicks, Wednesday night had the makings to be as big of a game for George.
“We talked about it in the preseason,” Anthony said on Tuesday regarding playing their former teams early in the year. “I think it’s a little easier to play on your court first before going there. I’m pretty sure he is excited.”
Sadly for George, Wednesday night can be categorized as a bad day at the office for him. After picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter, the former Pacer never got going and the game quickly got away from him. His night ended midway through the fourth quarter when he picked up his sixth foul.
I think that’s why we all committed to this journey, committed to this team, because of nights like this. -Carmelo Anthony
A night that was supposed to be about George’s next chapter became a perfect example of why this team has the potential to be great.
Paul George, a four-time All-Star, registered 10 points on 4-of-8 in just over 19 minutes of game time. He was unable to play more minutes than Andre Roberson, Jerami Grant or Josh Huestis.
“I was actually more impressed with him (George) tonight,” Coach Billy Donovan said in the postgame. “He kept his composure and played the right way. Clearly tonight, there were some tough calls that put him in foul trouble early, but he’s a team guy and he kept his composure.”
While George was indeed level-headed despite some questionable calls throughout the evening, his teammates picked up the slack for him. Something that hasn’t happened much in his career.
Russell Westbrook was sensational with 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go along with 16 assists and 10 rebounds — his second triple-double of the season and the 81st of his career. Steven Adams feasted in the paint with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Anthony had a double-double himself with 28 points and 10 boards.
“Russ and Melo did an unbelievable job to carry me and carry the team,” George said after the game. “It’s great to have two guys that when nights aren’t going for me, they are there for me.”
With someone as talented as George off rhythm all night, the Thunder were still able to secure an 18-point victory. That is an advantage this team realizes it has at its disposal — next man up.
“I think that’s why we all committed to this journey, committed to this team, because of nights like this,” Anthony said. “Even though one of our big pieces didn’t have a great game tonight, there were other guys that were able to step up. We didn’t have to rely on him as much as we might have on any other night.
That’s the beauty of us coming together, on any given night, we’re all going to have bad nights but we know the others can step up.”
When you add the talents of players like George and Anthony to a team with Westbrook and Adams on it, this is certainly a luxury the Thunder have over many teams in the NBA. Oklahoma City certainly did not have it last season. Especially not George himself.
I closed that chapter when I became a Thunder. -Paul George
In his last two seasons with the Pacers, George scored 10 points or fewer eight times. In those eight games, his Pacers won three and lost five with the average margin of victory for the opponent resting at just over 22 points.
“Yeah that hadn’t happened often in my career,” George said when asked about what it felt like to have an off night individually but his team still wins. “Fortunate to have those guys carry knowing how big this game was for me.”
There will be nights when Westbrook is off. There will be nights when Anthony’s shot refuses to fall. For the Thunder, they now have an example to reference in the future when one of their stars is having an off-night.
As for entering that next chapter with a big individual game and a win against his former team, George was not discouraged by his poor individual play.
“I closed that chapter when I became a Thunder,” George said.We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!