George shreds Utah as Thunder take Game 1

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

“You haven’t heard of Playoff P,” Paul George asked yesterday in practice.

Some scoffed at that statement. Rightfully so considering George’s play since the All-Star break. Others lumped this into the long list of statements this wildly inconsistent Oklahoma City Thunder team has said since being formed in the offseason.

Well “Playoff P” showed up.

George was Mt. Vesuvius to the Utah Jazz’ Pompeii all evening as Oklahoma City beat Utah 116-108. He finished with 36 points on a ridiculous 13-for-20, including 8-for-11 from three. Step-back threes, in-rhythm shots and some silly heat checks were all falling for the All-Star forward.

“You tip your hat to guys that make shots like that,” Utah Jazz coach Quinn Snyder said during the postgame. “He’s a great player, and when you’ve got a guy like that, you’ve just got to do the best you can.”

Utah tried multiple coverages and defenders on George. The Jazz’ bread and butter drop defensive coverage allowed George to find openings early and catch fire. Then Utah resorted to trapping him when he refused to miss a shot, but he was able to make pristine passes to open shooters.

The Jazz simply had no answer.

“It was as big as the fish I posted (on his Instagram),” George said when asked how big the basket seemed all evening.

Despite this, the Thunder could not pull away and bury Utah. The paint was walled off thanks to the defensive exploits of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Oklahoma City finished with 32 points in the paint but didn’t crack 20 until late in the third quarter.

“I hope he doesn’t go 8-for-11 from three next game,” Donovan Mitchell said. The exciting rookie finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds.

An early 16-4 start for the Jazz brought on feelings of anxiety throughout the packed Chesapeake Energy Arena. Easy Jazz buckets and George and Carmelo Anthony’s combined 0-for-4 start was all too a familiar scene.

Then the Thunder got rolling. A 12-0 run after the initial timeout in the game sparked the team and the crowd. From then it was the “Playoff P” show. Westbrook had the offense rolling and the Thunder handled their 5th-seeded opponent rather well.

The middle of the game was an onslaught of Thunder jumpers falling and pesky defense being played by guys like Anthony and Corey Brewer.

The end of the game also brought back memories of late-collapses. A comfortable Thunder lead dwindled into single digits with under a minute to go in the game. Alec Burks exploded off the bench for 10 points in two quick minutes.

“Obviously we need to do a better job collectively closing as a group,” Billy Donovan said. “Game 2 will be tougher.”

With that, Oklahoma City takes a 1-0 advantage in the series. Westbrook wasn’t overly impressed with the win, taking the route of “we did what we were supposed to do.”

“We didn’t do anything special,” Westbrook said at the podium. “We won one game at home. Game 2 is Wednesday.”

Oklahoma City host the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The game can be seen on NBATV or on Fox Sports Oklahoma. Our own Brady Trantham will be in arena for that one.

Three Keys to the Game

Paint scoring: C

The Thunder were forced away from the paint all evening. Westbrook didn’t get going downhill towards the basket, rather opting for his back-to-the-basket turn-around jumpers — which were falling. Finishing with 32 points in the paint is nothing to sneeze at, this is what Utah does.

Rebounding: A

Anytime you can out-rebound the Utah Jazz you’re doing soemthing right. Adams had his hands full with Gobert but was able to hold his own. Westbrook finished with 13 boards while the trio of Adams, Anthony and George each registered seven.

Share the ball: B

The Thunder mainly relied on George hitting tough shots. When the ball was moving, the passes were crisp. Anthony in particular was swinging the ball around getting OKC better looks. Westbrook finished with eight dimes.

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