The Oklahoma City Thunder knew they’d need someone not named Russell Westbrook to step up if they wanted to not only take Game 1 of their opening-round series against the Utah Jazz, but the series itself.
Paul George stepped up, then completely stepped out of this world en route to an astonishing Game 1 display and a 116-108 Thunder win.
The Thunder went down big right off the bat, falling behind by double-digits in the opening minutes of the first quarter. Then they turned it on, let the man they now call “Playoff P” have an out-of-body experience, and never looked back.
George — perhaps sick of hearing how great Victor Oladipo was earlier in the day for the Indiana Pacers in their own playoff win — was phenomenal in this one, taking the game over completely for large swaths of the second half.
He set a Thunder (and tied a Seattle/OKC) franchise record for 3-pointers in a game with eight. He finished with 36 points, 31 of which came in the first three quarters, on 13-of-20 shooting to go with seven rebounds and a steal. He, not his triple-double-averaging teammate (who was excellent in his won right), was clearly the best player on the floor, leading the way for a Thunder team that didn’t get a ton of offensive support (not that it needed it) outside he and Westbrook.
Carmelo Anthony, known himself for stepping up his game an extra gear in the postseason, scored just 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting. He also turned the ball over three times. The Thunder bench added just 17 points, of which 11 came from one player, Alex Abrines. Other expected role players like Steven Adams and Corey Brewer were largely unheard from on the offensive end.
And in the end, none of that mattered, because George wouldn’t let it.
Before the series began, the common stance was that Westbrook, as great and as able to take over a game as he is, couldn’t beat a team with the depth and talent of the Jazz by himself four times in seven tries. He would need one of his teammates — almost certainly George or Anthony — to help shoulder the load for any given game, taking pressure off himself.
In Game 1, George took that to heart. He showed Westbrook that he doesn’t need to do everything on his own, that he could trust someone else to put the ball in the basket and require the attention of the Utah defense.
Maybe he does it again in Game 2. Maybe someone else, like Anthony or even Adams or Brewer, takes a turn. Either way, it’s clear that for the Thunder to win this series, they will need to do so by using the Westbrook-plus-one formula.
Sunday night, George was that plus-one and then some, and it was more than the Jazz could handle.
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