Oklahoma City exited Indiana with a win and a whimper Wednesday, avenging Paul George in a 100–95 victory that did little to inspire confidence in the team’s long-term outlook. George was playing his first game back in Indy since forcing his way out this summer, and his night will not be remembered as one of the NBA’s classic revenge performances. George scored 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, with five assists and four turnovers. PG was a minus-3 in his time on the court—and it was no fluke, as the Thunder bench (shockingly) did much of the heavy lifting.
OKC still doesn’t make much sense, and their All-Star trio hardly looked in sync Wednesday. Westbrook recorded a triple-double of 10 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists that was offset by his hideous 3-of-17 shooting. Carmelo Anthony wasn’t much better, connecting on only 4-of-14 from the field. Altogether, the Thunder’s big three scored 34 points on 10-of-45 shooting, though George and Westbrook at least made a couple winning plays down the stretch—a welcome departure from meltdowns past.
Watching the Thunder remains a frustrating experience. Melo isn’t spotting up as much as he should. George needs to be initiating more offense. And Westbrook’s shot selection leaves much to be desired. In most situations, the team struggles with Westbrook on the bench, but it still seems it would make more sense for Thunder coach Billy Donovan to stagger his stars’ time on the court.
It‘s been especially hard to watch George this season. He once credibly went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the playoffs. Now, he’s stuck in a bland offense with two stars who don’t have a history of making their teammates better. George would not have been better off staying with the Pacers, but it’s incredibly difficult to say that OKC is the right place for him long term. If he left next summer, the way things are going right now, could you blame him? George is an in-his-prime, top-15 player in the NBA, and he has no business wasting his career in a place that can’t figure out how to maximize his talents.
Nothing about the Thunder, Wednesday or recently, would suggest they’ve turned the corner. OKC is 5–5 since its big win over the maybe-motivated Warriors. The Thunder looked primed to let the Pacers steal a win Wednesday until Indy out-mistaked them at the end.
OKC has a long way to go to prove it's a contender. The Thunder have done nothing to earn anyone’s trust, and the clock is ticking on them to figure out how to make their pieces fit. Even before Wednesday’s win, George was justified in leaving the Pacers—regardless of their surprising success or Victor Oladipo’s stunning transformation into an All-Star. If OKC can’t figure out how to use this win, or any win, as a springboard to sustained success, George will be justified if he wants to leave again.