OKLAHOMA CITY — The best hope Thunder Nation has as it ponders Game 3, an absolute must-win as the Oklahoma City-Portland series moves into Chesapeake Energy Arena for at least two more tussles, is its ability to believe in Paul George.
It’s kind of that simple.
No question, Russell Westbrook is the presumed leader of the team, yet it was George who offered a calm, reassuring and seemingly certain presence following Thursday’s practice.
“We’re going to play our game,” he said. “That fact of the matter is, we haven’t shot the ball well, but that’s going to change. It’s a long series, it’s going to change for us.”
So quit your worrying.
If you can believe him.
The Thunder haven’t just shot the ball poorly. They’ve done that plenty this season, ranking 19th (45.4), 22nd (34.8) and 28th (71.3) in the league in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage.
Still, in two games at Moda Center, both losses, they suffered historically bad shooting nights.
In Game 1, the Thunder hit 39.8 percent (37 of 93) overall and 15.2 percent (5 of 33) from 3-point land. In Game 2 it was 40.7 percent (35 of 86) and 17.9 percent (5 of 28).
Not once had OKC hit less than 20 percent from 3-point land all season long. Already, it’s happened twice in the playoffs.
George, who made 38.6 percent from beyond the arc over the regular season, has been off, canning just 6 of 22. Meanwhile, Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant, Dennis Schroder and Westbrook are a combined 3 of 33.
George was asked about Ferguson and Grant, particularly.
“We’re home, they’re going to shoot the ball better,” he said. “They put a lot of work into it, they’re going to shoot the ball better.”
Like he knows it.
Like he just knows it.
About himself, is his shoulder an issue?
He attempted 15 3s in Game 1 but only seven in Game 2.
“The first game, it was just out of rhythm, trying to find shots,” George said. “The second game was knowing where the shots were going to come from.”
Just not as many came from 3.
No shoulder issue.
Grant outshot George from distance over the regular season, making 39.2 percent.
However, George made 292, total, over the regular season to Grant’s 115. The best guy to get OKC out of its shooting funk is him.
Over the regular season, George made at least half his 3-point attempts in 22 of the 77 games he played. The Thunder were 15-7 in those games.
Two different times George hit at least 50 percent in four of five games. Oklahoma City won six of those eight games.
It’s enough to make you wonder if George’s good shooting is contagious.
When he makes 50 percent from 3, the rest of the Thunder have made 34 percent. When he doesn’t make 50 percent, the rest have made 33.3 percent.
Whatever, after practice Thursday, George was zen.
“We’re back home, we’ll get our rhythm going, there will be confidence gained,” he said. “We play well here, we have an amazing crowd, home court here. We’ll get back on stride.”
Then he qualified it, because it can't be that easy.
“I’m not going to say just because we’re home it’s going to be all fine and dandy,” George said. “We’ve got to come out to play, to execute, to do the things we need to do to win this game.”
OKC might want to quit turning the ball over: 16 times in each game thus far. And it might hope Portland cools off from distance: the Blazers have canned 42.1 percent (24 of 57) from 3-point land thus far.
Mostly, Thunder Nation can hope for two things.
One, George gets hot, because OKC tends to win when he does.
Two, he really knows what he's talking about.
It’s a long series, yes.
It’s going to change?
Portland at Oklahoma City
Series: Blazers lead 2-0
Time: 8:30 p.m. Friday
Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV: ESPN and FSOK
Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1