Blitzing Brooklyn: Thunder, PG Come Back with 4th Quarter Barrage – OKC 114, BKN 112

BROOKLYN – The rhythm dribble. It happens a few times in every NBA game, but this one caused a cavernous silence inside Barclays Center. Paul George saw a defender flying to him. He pump faked and put the ball down one time, then let fly.

On a perfectly designed inbounds pass with 8.1 seconds remaining, George completed the job of demolishing a 20-point fourth quarter Nets lead by dropping in his 4th three-pointer of the period for the clutch go-ahead basket in a 114-112 Thunder road victory. The patience George showed in that crunch-time moment was pure class, a signature move from one of the league’s very best to push this Thunder hot streak to wins in 16 of its last 19 games. 

“It felt good. I had the hot hand,” George said. “Honestly, when you’re in the zone, everything is just kind of slowed down. Everything is timing, from the ball dribbling to the steps to get to the basket, everything seems calculated and slowed down.”

“I wanted to try to get two guys on me because they thought I was going to drive. Exactly what I thought they were going to do, they did, and it freed up the guy who had 25 points in the fourth quarter.,” Westbrook said before quipping, “Easy decision for me.”

On the final Thunder possession Dennis Schröder inbounded the ball to Russell Westbrook on the left wing, as George timed his cut perfectly right in front of the face of Westbrook’s defender. Both Nets players in the mix froze in place, just as the whole building did when the already flaming hot George caught the ball on the right wing. After the aforementioned pump game and hesitation dribble, the perennial All-Star’s three and final bucket gave him 47 points for the night, one shy of a career-high, and 25 points in the fourth quarter alone on 9-of-12 shooting, 4-of-6 from three, 3-of-5 FTs in the fourth quarter shooting from the field and 4-of-6 marksmanship from behind the arc to complete a 47-point effort overall.  

There was one final Brooklyn possession left, but the Thunder played it tight, just as it had all fourth quarter when it outscored the Nets 39-19. Trapping Jared Dudley on the wing, Westbrook poked the ball out from behind and knocked it out of bounds with 0.1 seconds to go - a perfect use of the clock as the Thunder’s sixth defender. As the Nets impotent heave flew past the basket and the final buzzer sounded, the entire Thunder team rallied around in a circle just underneath the basket right in front of its bench. The road crowd adored the players in Oklahoma City jerseys with massive cheers and George was at the center of the circle, getting mobbed by teammates and drenched by water from Westbrook.

“It’s just special man. All year it’s been special being with this group,” said George. “We have fun and it showed in the celebration tonight.”

“I love it,” Westbrook said of George. “When you’re able to sit back and watch and see the time he’s put in and how it’s been so much better for him this year and see it pay off in a moment we much need it, it’s great. I’m just happy that he’s on my team.”

Along with his teammates, all of Westbrook’s emotion after the buzzer was centered on George’s heroics, despite it being an historic night for the Thunder point guard himself as he passed Jason Kidd for third all-time in triple-doubles with a 21-point, 17-assist, 15-rebound effort. 

Until the fourth quarter, the Thunder looked dead to rights, ready to fall prey to a classic trap game in the midst of an East Coast road swing against a struggling Nets team. The rotations and closeouts on perimeter jump shots were a step late. Instead of fighting over screens and getting back in front, switches were given up more easily. Brooklyn Nets players were out ahead of the pack in transition and they also snapped up offensive rebounds for putbacks. The Thunder’s defensive identity has been so crystal clear all season long that it’s extra glaring when the team doesn’t play up to it.

“In the first half, they were making big threes, they were making shots,” said George. “We didn’t really have a rhythm offensively and we were coming down and playing against a loaded defense.

Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club kept trying to rally in the second half but could never really get over the hump until George got it going in the fourth and the defense buckled down. Down 99-80 with eight minutes left in regulation, the Thunder began to chip away with buckets from Terrance Ferguson on a corner three and Steven Adams on an up and under layup before George went berserk, scoring 18 of the Thunder’s next 19 points, until the triple-threat forward made a different kind of play for his team.

With the Nets defense fully aware of the heater he was on, they loaded up on a George drive down the slot, leaving Jerami Grant wide open in the right corner. George took one extra dribble to completely pull in the defense, then dished to Grant for a catch-and-shoot three that made it 109-107 Brooklyn with just under three minutes to go.

“Trust. Trust. Trust,” George repeated. “We trust each other.”

During that five-minute span, the Thunder’s defense was also finally catching on to how it needed to operate in order to effectively get stops. Westbrook acted as the general whenever the Nets tried to force the Thunder into switches, and then into difficult mismatches. Playing on the back side of the defense, Westbrook directed traffic and got his team organized, forcing Brooklyn to have to force shots over the top of outstretched hands.

“Just being in the back, trying to manipulate,” Westbrook explained. “I saw they were trying to get certain switches so my job was to try to figure out how I could put the best defenders on the ball and finding ways to get the rebound, get out on the break and get easy baskets.”

By forcing the Nets into 6-of-15 fourth quarter shooting, the Thunder was able to slow down the scoreboard for long enough until George’s daggers could slingshot the team into the lead, for good. By the end of the night, the Thunder had gotten back to its identity – emphasizing defense, playing with pace and scoring before the defense could get totally set. It was a gutsy win, fueled by a transcendent player, buoyed by a relentless team performance.

“It’s on us as a group just to play the right way, not quit on ourselves,” George said. “We didn’t get down. We didn’t get on one another. We stayed positive and we looked at it as one possession, one stop and one basket.”

Highlights: Thunder 114, Nets 112