George Aggressive and Open All Night, Fuels Second Quarter Burst in Runaway Win – OKC 133, LAL 96
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
LOS ANGELES – Focused, deliberate and energetic effort, the Thunder looked exactly what they are on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers: a top-tier NBA team.
After an early back-and-forth with the Lakers in the first quarter, the Thunder exploded once the starters checked back in midway through the second period, as it finished off the final 8:09 of the half with a 28-9 run. That was all the separation the Thunder needed to continually extend the lead throughout the night, as Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club scored a season-high in a 133-96 victory.
"Our defense was good, and then obviously when you move the ball and generate good looks, we shot the ball extremely well," Donovan said.
Los Angeles native Paul George served as the ignition switch for the Thunder’s blast off, knocking down a three-pointer, three free throws, a layup and then another three to cap a personal 11-point scoring run.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 4, 2018
Despite all sorts of noise that comes with playing the Lakers, and being back home, the only people in the crowd George acknowledged during the game were a pair sitting courtside – his mom and his dad. After knocking down that second three-pointer to get the Thunder’s burst started, George quickly skipped over to give his dad a hug and his mom a kiss on the cheek.
Besides that sweet moment, it was all business for Oklahoma City to kickstart this road trip, as it should have been against the rebuilding Lakers. Behind the steady playmaking of Russell Westbrook, who found George coming off of curls, pin-downs and elevator screens, the Thunder’s offense operated at high gear. George finished with 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting, Carmelo Anthony had 21 on 8-for-14 shooting and Westbrook tied it all together with 12 assists to go with 20 points and 6 rebounds.
“It helps to get a defender not knowing what to expect on my catches, whether to shoot or to drive. It definitely puts me at an advantage,” George said of catching it on the move. “I just try to be available, try to move and space for Russ. He’s so good at attacking and getting to the paint. My job is easy. Just get open.”
“It’s key,” Westbrook said of George’s cutting. “He’s very, very good moving without the basketball. My job is to make sure I find him and get him easy baskets.”
Without Andre Roberson in the starting lineup, and coming off of a few subpar defensive showings, the Thunder knew it needed to bring tenacity to this one. While it blew some assignments early, the defense throughout the final 36 minutes of this one was back to the Thunder’s normal elite level.
“We just had to get control of their pace of the game, figure out how they were going to play,” Anthony said. “We fixed our transition defense, made the adjustment we needed to make, made them play halfcourt offense and play to our strengths.”
How bout a dozen Melo points in Q1?
Game's tied at 26.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 4, 2018
In Roberson’s place in the starting lineup was rookie guard Terrance Ferguson, who was a step slow in his first quarter minutes, but came out with his seemingly endless level of confidence and verve in the second half. For the game, he knocked down 6-of-9 three-pointers, tying a Thunder rookie record, on his way to 24 points in addition to being his normal pesky self on the defensive end. In the fourth quarter, Ferguson electrified the Staples Center crowd with two unbelievable fast break dunks, including a breakaway windmill slam that sent the Thunder bench into hysterics.
“The thing that got me going was Russ. In the first half, (Westbrook) was like, ‘I don’t care if you miss 10 shots in a row, just keep shooting’,” Ferguson recalled. “That really just gave me confidence right there to shoot the ball and have fun with it.”
“It’s nothing like that. There’s no better feeling than that,” Anthony said of Ferguson’s performance. “Knowing how much hard work those guys put in, knowing how hard it is to get minutes in this league, for Ferg to come out and play the way he played tonight, we take our hat off for him for that.”
Ferguson wasn’t the only role player to make an impact tonight. During the Thunder’s decisive second quarter, when it shot 66.7 percent and held Los Angeles to 31.8 percent shooting, Westbrook found both Steven Adams and Josh Huestis for easy dunks to keep the scoreboard moving. It was the Thunder’s defense during that stretch, where it at one point forced three straight turnovers that broke the game open and set a tone for the rest of the night.
“We kept them out the paint,” George said. “We forced them to play in the half court. That was more our game."
Highlights: Thunder at Lakers
Westbrook Debuts Signature Shoe
Late in the second quarter, Westbrook got blocked off by two defenders in transition, but after pulling the ball out with a hesitation dribble to the wing, he quickly crossed over baseline and left Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stuck in concrete.
As the Staples Center crowed gasped, a flash of white and blue flashed through the air. It was Westbrook’s shoes, the Jordan Why Not Zer0.1’s that were unveiled by Westbrook and Jordan Brand on Wednesday. The shoes are Westbrook’s very first on-court signature shoe, a rare and prestigious tribute to his skill, tenacity and status in the NBA.
“As a kid growing up in LA and standing in line to get other people’s shoes, you become aware of how fortunate you are to get sneakers,” Westbrook said. “To be able to sit here now and hold my own shoe is an honor.”
By the Numbers
12 – Steals for the Thunder on the night, as it also held the Lakers to just 41.3 percent shooting
14-for-30 – Three-point shooting numbers for the Thunder, including a rookie-record-tying 6 for Terrance Ferguson, part of a 24-point second half for the young guard
36 – Assists for the Thunder on the night, which led to 60.2 percent shooting for the game
The Last Word
“We defended at a high level for 48 minutes and it showed… Everybody is being unselfish and making the right play, and obviously making shots helps as well.” – point guard Russell Westbrook