LOS ANGELES — Paul George’s sarcasm can be unrecognizable. George’s deadpan has confused rooms before. That wasn’t the case after the Los Angeles Lakers trounced his Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.
George may have taken a straight face but his facetiousness was as unmistakable as his team’s struggles. On a night when the Thunder were missing Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom entered the day as game-time decisions with sprained ankles, George had to carry the team.
He wasn’t enough. But who could have been?
“They should’ve just told me they weren’t going to play. They shouldn’t have left it up to the last second and just left me out there,” George quipped. “So, I’m a little mad at Russ and Melo.”
The Thunder fell 106-81. George dropped 16 points in the first quarter and 29 total during a day when even the peripheral stories surrounded him.
The Lakers had just traded two players, guard Jordan Clarkson and big man Larry Nance, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for point guard Isaiah Thomas and stretch big Channing Frye, both of whom will be free agents at the end of the season. It’s a move which will open up even more cap room for an organization hoping, in its best-case scenario, to make a run at difference-making free agents this summer.
One of those could be George, who is from Los Angeles, whose parents sat baseline Thursday night, whose name came up in more than one Staples Center chant, including a “We want Paul!” one toward the end of the loss.
“I didn’t hear that. I didn’t hear that,” George repeated.
It wasn’t the only miss of the Thunder’s night.
George got colder as the game developed. Steven Adams corralled seven offensive boards but wasn’t able to dominate on finishes as he often does — and how the Thunder certainly would have needed him to were they to drop a hot Lakers squad.
Power forward Patrick Patterson, usually an accurate spot-up shooter, clanked all five of his 3-point attempts, even though most were open and all were on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Sharpshooter Alex Abrines missed five of his six 3s.
The Thunder finished the game shooting 36 percent from the field and 24 percent from 3-point land. Just to keep matters zesty, they missed more than half of their free throws.
“We actually generated and created some pretty good looks but we just couldn’t make any shots,” coach Billy Donovan said.
The offense simply didn’t come with Westbrook out of the lineup — and it forced Donovan to get creative. OKC played Abrines at backup point guard during the first half. But the reserves went scoreless over the first four minutes of the second quarter, and Donovan moved onto two-way player Daniel Hamilton as the backup for third and fourth quarters.
Even the offense that was working wasn’t constant. The Thunder tried running pick-and-rolls with George and Adams early. It’s how George got plenty of his shots to start, beginning the game with five consecutive makes. But they got away from it.
“Came out in a nice, little rhythm. I know myself, personally, I should’ve kept that going, kept the same shots I was getting,” George said. “But credit to them. They made adjustments.”
The loss, in reality, means nothing for the future. Westbrook was walking without a limp. So was Anthony. And George will not make any summer decision because of a February result. Besides, the drama will always surround George in Los Angeles, whether the five-time All-Star decides to stay in Oklahoma City or not.
The spectacle was, however, reality for a night.
Basketball has had prettier showings.
Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.