OKLAHOMA CITY — There are two perspectives.
One could argue Paul George saved the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, going for 42 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, ending the team's four-game losing streak and bringing its season record to 5-7.
George was the clear best player on the floor during the 120-111 win over the L.A. Clippers. He stayed on the move, controlling the offense whether he was dribbling or darting across the hardwood to find open space. It worked alongside the starters. It worked when he piloted the second unit.
One could argue he saved them late, too. Coach Billy Donovan had just called a timeout with the game, one the Thunder were once up 20, tied at 105 midway through the final period. The formula was looking the same as it did in the previous two losses: build up a double-digit lead, watch it crumble, then unsuccessfully try to reassemble the construction with isolation play aplenty.
Carmelo Anthony, who went for 14 points and six rebounds, was doing his best to exploit fourth-quarter, one-on-one mismatches. So was Russell Westbrook, who scored 22 on 16 shots.
That is, until Donovan called the timeout. That’s when the group started to find George gobbling up his comfort food, those curls around the elbow.
“I think it’s just us trying to evolve as a team,” Donovan said.
George hit two shots from there. The Thunder pulled away.
He scored his points early in a similar fashion. He added 15 free-throw attempts, a season high during a year when he hasn’t gotten to the stripe nearly as often as in the past. His 42 came on 13 of 22 shooting.
“That changed the game when he got going,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
One could say, he won OKC the game.
But there’s another angle: George was the main character, but more importantly, the Thunder let him win them the game.
They didn't do that the previous night, when he received only one shot during the fourth quarter of a 102-94 defeat in Denver. It’s the grand irony of OKC's early-season, late-game offense: each member of the Thunder’s triumvirate is making an obvious effort to share the shots, but in doing so, it’s assigning possession by possession to a different player.
The unselfishness is moral but not fluid.
George called for the team to do more following the loss to the Nuggets.
“It’s on us to not spectate. Whoever has the ball, we can’t spectate,” he said. “We got to get some movement, just cause some confusion to give that guy that has the ball a chance to even make a play.”
He executed exactly what he promised the following night. He did it on the second half of a back-to-back, following a stretch during which the Thunder had played six out of seven on the road.
“It was strange walking out on the court tonight. I feel like we've been gone for like a month,” Donovan said.
With all the drama, it felt like the Thunder hadn’t won in that long, too.
Logic says the losing streak was a four-game sample of poorly played November games. Logic says this team still has 70 games to figure out how to mesh. Logic says that a team this talented that wants to make it work will find a way to do that.
Friday night’s game wasn’t what the final product will look like. But it was a step. More importantly, it was a correction, and George personified it.
“He’s such an unselfish player…So a lot of times, he’ll just defer just as long as it helps the group,” Donovan said. “But for us, we need him to be aggressive and attack.”
• Adams update: Thunder center Steven Adams did not play Friday because of a right calf contusion, the team said. Backup center Dakari Johnson, who was out of Donvovan’s rotation and had played only eight minutes all season heading into Friday, started in his place.
“We got in late last night, and they were gonna basically try to do everything they could to give him treatment today, just to see if they could help him respond and see where he was at physically,” Donovan said. “The only thing I was told is that he was gonna be out tonight.”
Johnson played 23 minutes in the win over the Clippers, finishing with nine points, a rebound and two assists. He posted a plus-26 plus/minus.
The Thunder have not provided a timetable for Adams’ return.
• George’s tech: Referee Courtney Kirkland called George for his first technical foul of the season during the third quarter of Friday's game. The call came moments after the Thunder star thought he was fouled on a 3-point attempt.
George expressed his displeasure after the game.
“I’m not sure,” he said when asked what happened on the tech. “I said, ‘C’mon, Courtney,’ and I got t’d up for it. It was [an] obvious foul. I got fouled two times in a row on a jump shot. And he said, ‘Don’t stand me up.’ He made the game about him at that point, which was — I didn’t get that tech.”
Fred 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.