Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shows why Paul George trade was a blessing
In the middle of a rip-roaring game, a wildly entertaining shootout in which the Thunder rallied from another huge deficit while renewing old acquaintance with a superstar who caught the last train for the coast, Paul George looked up during a stoppage in play and noticed where he was.
On the baseline by the Thunder bench. And George figured he knew what that meant. Clay Bennett was nearby.
So PG13 found the Thunder chairman for an in-game hug. Soon enough, George and Bennett shared a post-game hug. Bennett didn’t reveal what was said between the guys who for two years either signed or cashed awfully big Oklahoma City checks, but hopefully there was a big thank-you dropped.
From Bennett to George.
The monumental favor that George did the Thunder last summer – asking for a trade to the Clippers – was presented in full splendor Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder beat the Clippers 118-112 to run its winning streak to four and its record above .500 (15-14) for the first time all season.
And 21-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the cornerstone of the Thunder’s side of the trade, was the star of the show. While George struggled, SGA was sublime – a career high 32 points for the second straight game, five assists and two blow-by-George drives down the stretch when the Thunder trailed and needed baskets on virtually every possession.
The Clippers could be bound for the NBA championship, and the Thunder’s high side is the first round of the playoffs. But the haul that OKC got for PG13 – Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and five future first-round draft picks – has positioned the Thunder for bright days ahead, and everyone is starting to realize it.
That’s why the pregame introduction of George was met with overwhelming cheers Sunday night. Forget the debate over whether PG should be booed or celebrated. The people spoke loudly.
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“It was great,” George said. “It was great. Just made me feel appreciated, being here. I enjoyed my time here.”
There was none of the vitriol from Kevin Durant’s Golden State returns. Nothing close. Durant left the Thunder with an uncertain future. George left the Thunder with a pot of gold.
“Yeah, they got a great haul,” said Clipper coach Doc Rivers. “Not only did they get Shai and Gal, they got people that we don’t know yet.”
A turned ankle suffered in pregame sidelined Gallinari on Sunday night, but the Clippers were without superstar Kawhi Leonard and defensive demon Patrick Beverley. Leonard was resting; Beverley is injured.
Leonard, of course, was the cause of all the summer upheaval, recruiting George to ask for a Thunder trade, which led to not only the Clipper deal but the Russell Westbrook trade to Houston.
No reason to be mad at George. He brought Santa Claus to town. Heck, if the Clippers had cold-called the Thunder, offering this same deal without a PG trade request, Sam Presti would have had to say OK.
It all was great theater that played out Sunday night. The Thunder trailed 53-35 in the second quarter but pecked away at the lead and completed its third vaunted comeback of the week, to go with rallies from 26 (Chicago) and 24 (Memphis) points down.
George made just six of 17 shots, making just three baskets after the first quarter. Meanwhile, Gilgeous-Alexander, with great help from former PG teammates Dennis Schroder (28 points, 20 in the second half) and Steven Adams (20 points, 17 rebounds), led the Thunder to victory.
The result left OKC more excited than ever over this new team while not discouraging George in the least over his Clippers, who figure to challenge the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy.
And George spoke glowingly about his Thunder experience.
“I will always view this as one of the best organizations I could have played for,” George said. “They set the bar in many ways. From the community, front office, the way they run things, the way they handle things. They set the bar in so many ways. It was a great imprint, a lasting impression on me. I know in a mid-market, what’s capable and what’s possible.”
And when he saw Bennett, even in mid-game, he couldn’t let the moment pass.
“I looked up, saw him, and it was only right,” George said. “It was my first time seeing him. I couldn’t pass being that close to him without saying hello.”
And hopefully being thanked in return.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.