Year one of the Paul George era in Oklahoma City ended with a thud. The five-time All-Star bricked his way to a 2-16 shooting effort in a 96-91 Game 5 loss to Utah, sending the Thunder home in round one of the Western Conference playoffs. While Russell Westbrook gunned his way to 46 points on 43 shots, George continued a trend of Westbrook’s teammates after Kevin Durant’s departure, shrinking from the season’s biggest moments.
George chose a chance at redemption in July, eschewing LeBron’s Lakers for four more years in Oklahoma City. The Thunder bet on a George-Westbrook romance and won. And with George secured long term, a major question loomed: would George be a suitable Robin to Westbrook’s Batman?
George has been up to the task this season. He leads the Thunder in scoring, adding in career-highs in rebounding and steals. George’s finest moment of the season came on Wednesday night, a 47-point, 15-rebound effort in a 114-112 win over the Nets. The comeback victory was Oklahoma City’s sixth win in its last seven contests. It was also a reminder of just how impressive George can be.
Playing next to Westbrook has shined a light on George’s game without the ball in his hands. Much of the praise he’s received in his Oklahoma City tenure springs from outside the box score. George is an elite cutter and a dangerous lob threat. He’s a quality spot-up shooter from beyond the arc. Defensively, George had a case to be on the All-Defensive team last year, finishing second in the league in steals. Yet for all of his peripheral strengths, George’s sheer scoring ability has been overlooked.
The former Pacer was a legitimate top option in Indiana, averaging over 27 points per game in both the 2016 and 2017 playoffs. George’s playoff efforts with overmatched squads felt a touch Westbrookian at times, emptying the chamber as the clock ticked down on their respective seasons.
George’s full arsenal was on display in Brooklyn, highlighted by a dominant 25-point fourth quarter. He bullied Spencer Dinwiddie and Allen Crabbe on drives to the tin. He hit four threes in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner with 3.1 seconds remaining. George didn’t defer to Westbrook or cede the hot hand. It was his quarter.
Oklahoma City is second in the Western Conference after Wednesday’s win and projects to reach the postseason despite an ultra-competitive West. George and Westbrook are one of the best one-two punches in the conference, and the core surrounding them is steadier than in past years. If George can assert himself in the postseason like he did on Wednesday night, Oklahoma City will be one of the most dangerous outs in the Western Conference playoffs.