NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment
Published:Fri, March 15, 2019 1:05 AM
Updated:Fri, March 15, 2019 1:43 AM
INDIANAPOLIS – Just above the Pacers’ “P” he stepped on thousands of times in the first seven seasons of his NBA career, Paul George tried to work his way over the screen, only to collapse into a heap upon contact. The raucous crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was delighted.
No word is more appropriate than “collapse” for what happened to the Thunder in a 108-106 loss to the Pacers on Thursday.
The Thunder led by as many as 19 points in the second half, but a Wesley Matthews putback with 1.8 seconds left completed a stunning comeback in which George showcased both brilliance and blunder under the pressure of his former fanbase.
It’s really hard to boo when the person you’re trying to boo is making a lot of shots. The fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse tried their mightiest to throw George off from pregame introductions. George spurned the fan base two years ago, saying he was leaving after his contract expired, which led to him ultimately getting traded to Oklahoma City.
Two years later, the Pacers are happy with their haul of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Oladipo is out for the season with a knee injury, but Sabonis dominated the Thunder for 26 points on Thursday.
The Thunder is elated with George’s development into one of the most impactful players in the NBA. On Thursday, he put together his second consecutive strong performance to lead the Thunder with 36 points.
In the second quarter in which the Thunder separated from Indiana, George was outstanding, either scoring or assisting on 23 of Oklahoma City’s 34 points. But the dominance shifted after halftime.
George was kept to 2-of-5 shooting in a pivotal third quarter, and to open the fourth, the Pacers sent multiple defenders at George as he searched for fouls against contact. Indiana began to sit on George’s drives and the Thunder’s offense flatlined into isolation on five of its first six possessions.
A theme was developing: Physicality on George, which sent the crowd into hysterics and at moments flustered the Most Valuable Player candidate.
The Thunder led by 11 with 6:25 to go. By 4:04, the Pacers had cut the lead to 99-98.
Even against adversity, George is lethal. He tied the game 104-104 with a 3-pointer. His two free throws put the Thunder ahead 106-104 with 1:13 remaining.
But Sabonis scored on the other end and George summed up his night, his highs and lows in an odd sequence in which he was called for one of his five turnovers. He then single-handedly stole the ball back, then turned it over again while trying to toss to Russell Westbrook in the backcourt. That set up the final Pacers possession in which George was pulverized by a screen, something the Defensive Player of the Year candidate isn’t used to.
“I thought we slowed the game down a little bit, then we got a little stagnant,” George said. “Fast breaks, playing in transition, that’s where we’re at our best.”
“Forty-four, 45 minutes of the game tonight we were the better team. We gave them energy.”
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook shoots over Indiana Pacers’ Darren Collison during Thursday night’s NBA game in Indianapolis. [AP Photo/Darron Cummings]