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Welcome Back! Epic Double-OT Battle Ends with PG Game-Winner – OKC 148, UTA 147

With two Utah Jazz defenders trying to pinch him into a bad spot on the perimeter, Paul George collected his dribble. The All-Star forward somehow slinked through a sliver of an opening, only to see a 7-foot-3 goliath in the form of Rudy Gobert awaiting him in the lane. With precious seconds ticking off the clock, George did the only thing that could be done, but the degree of difficulty was outrageous. Floating the ball over Gobert’s outstretched arm, George gave the shot a chance and with 0.8 seconds remaining in the second overtime, it dropped.

The Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd, pre-primed from 58 minutes of playoff-like basketball, elevated to another level in veneration as George flexed on his way over to the scorer’s table near the Thunder bench, gazing out to the adoring masses.

“I had to get it up there,” said George. “I just saw a play where (Gobert) was playing the drive as if I was going to go towards him again. And I saw a little gap that I had to shoot the floater. It’s the shot that worked, so just thank God it went in.”

“It was tough man. Tough shot,” added fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook. “Big player made big plays and I think obviously he’s been making them all year long. Tonight was just one of those nights where he made another big play.”

After George’s bucket the Thunder still had to make a final stand, but when the Jazz inbounded the ball to Kyle Korver in the corner, he was completely covered and the desperation three was off, giving the Thunder a sensational and nerve-wracking 148-147 victory over its Northwest Division rival. The Thunder clinched the season series against the Jazz with its third win in as many meetings over Utah, and inched up in the standings to 38-20, just two games out of the 2nd seed in the Western Conference.

“Good home win, especially first out of the break, setting the tone to kind of get our minds right and do what we want to do, our main goal,” said Westbrook.

Coming into the game, George predicted that the Thunder would have to have an incredible amount of mental toughness and resolve to kick off the post-All Star Break stretch with a victory. That proved true in myriad ways. First came the relentlessness with which Utah knocked down tough shots and then cleaned up the glass on the few shots they did miss. As the second half went along, the Thunder racked up some foul trouble, including 6-foul disqualifications for Terrance Ferguson in regulation and then Russell Westbrook in the first overtime. 

To that point, the Thunder would have been completely lost without Westbrook’s aggressiveness, pace and shot-making. After scoring 20 points in the first half, Westbrook poured in 17 in the third quarter alone before finishing this one with 43 points on 15-for-29 shooting, including six made three-pointers, to go with 15 rebounds and eight assists. 

When Westbrook and Ferguson fouled out, the next man had to step up and trust had to flow throughout the team. Markieff Morris made his Thunder debut, learning on the fly and making a couple assists in 17 minutes. Dennis Schröder, who started the game shooting 2-for-15 from the field, knocked down a massive shot with 1:27 to go in the second overtime, and made the no hesitation extra pass to reserve forward Abdel Nader for a crucial corner three-pointer with 51 seconds left in the first overtime.

“Everybody just being ready, making big shots, making be plays down the stretch,” said Westbrook. “It was a collective win by all of us.”

“It’s just a testament to the coaching staff and my teammates,” Nader said humbly. “I wasn’t playing so well in the first half, still having the confidence in me to put me back in and finish the game.”

The trust the Thunder showed in one another was enough to overcome the slings and arrows volleyed at the team all night long, and set up another MVP moment to hang on George’s tapestry. The nine-foot floater to win the game was the exclamation point, but George’s patient, composed performance was a work of art. After letting the game come to him in the first half, George snapped for 17 fourth quarter points and continued to generate offense for the Thunder in the overtime’s on his way to an unbelievable final line: 45 points on 17-for-31 shooting, nine rebounds and seven assists with zero turnovers, a remarkable achievement considering George played 50 minutes and carried such a heavy playmaking load all night.

“I was just in a good rhythm. You know it was just a good rhythm trying to find and make the right plays. You know it was just one of them nights,” said George matter-of-factly.

As he and his Thunder teammates have done all season, George shouldered the weight, then lifted his team through and above it for an awe-inspiring victory.

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