When you have a guy that is 8-for-11 from 3, you need to look at those shots and where they got them and give them credit for playing well and making shots. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
OKLAHOMA CITY — From nailing pull-up jumpers off the dribble to hitting fall away shots to beat the buzzer and a boatload of trey balls, “Playoff P” was on fire Sunday.
Paul George went off for 36 points, including eight treys, in Oklahoma City’s 116-108 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday.
The OKC Thunder star forewarned the general public at large that a big performance was coming.
"Y'all ain't met Playoff P yet, huh?" George told reporters with a smile on the final day of practice entering the series.
Then he delivered on the self-proclaimed nickname that even his teammates didn’t learn about until the next morning.
“I thought it had to come from somebody else but when you have a performance like that last night, he can stick with Playoff P,” Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony said during Monday’s practice.
Utah entered the series with the league’s second-best defensive rating (101.6), anchored by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert.
However, it was rookie Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles who were mostly matched up against George as he went 13-for-20 from the floor, while Ingles and O’Neale combined to score 14 points and four rebounds with eight personal fouls.
George even challenged Gobert with a floater off the glass and a jumper off the dribble in the second quarter. Part of George’s explosion was just great offense, but also miscues on defense.
“He made some tough shots,” O’Neale said. “I tried to make it hard for him (by being) physical on defense but I’ve just got to watch film and learn from that. Try to take away those shots and not letting him get as many.”
The Jazz also allowed 19 second-chance points as OKC shot 48.3 percent from beyond the arc. After having time to study film, work in a practice and reflect on the Game 1 loss, Jazz coach Quin Snyder is pushing guys to play better defensively.
“When you have a guy that is 8-for-11 from 3, you need to look at those shots and where they got them and give them credit for playing well and making shots,” Snyder said. “For us, there is some things that were breakdown an offensive rebound that ends up in a shot, transition defense and things that add up but there’s nothing that jumps out that’s glaring except made shots and you have to figure out how they got them.”
Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook put up 29 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists but didn’t shoot well, going 10-for-25 with five turnovers.
Carmelo Anthony posted 15 points and seven rebounds but connected on five of his 13 attempts with three turnovers as well.
So the main thing was slowing down George, who also disrupted the Jazz defensively as a two-way threat.
“He’s (6-9) or whatever he is, athletic, he can be on the charge circling and contesting a shot in a split second,” Ingles said. “So, I think for me, it’s just making the right reads, knowing when he’s in there to catch and shoot it or knowing when I can go by him.”
With O’Neale making his playoff debut, the Jazz are being careful not to discourage him in with the individual matchup. A better collective effort in defending George is the point of emphasis, not just singling out one guy.
“We made some mistakes,” Snyder said. “On a hedge, we went under and you get punished for that and the 3 at the end of the third quarter, he was up in him and we needed to get the defensive rebound so a lot of things that everybody can do a little bit better, including Royce.”
SPOTLIGHT: Jazz two-way player Georges Niang is currently in Oklahoma City for the Utah playoff series, but the former Iowa State star was named to the All-NBA G League First Team on Monday. Niang was selected by the head coaches and general managers for his stellar play during the 2017-18 season. He appeared in 41 games, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the Santa Cruz Warriors and Salt Lake City Stars.