‘Playoff P’ prepared to defend Utah’s Mitchell
Paul George still has to score, still has to be finisher when Russell Westbrook
is on the court and a playmaker when he’s off it.
When the Thunder opens the postseason on Sunday against the Utah Jazz, George still will have his regular-season offensive load to carry. And he’ll take on additional responsibilities at the defensive end against rookie Donovan Mitchell.
George is ready for it. It’s a part he’s played before.
“Y’all ain’t met Playoff P yet, huh?” George said after Saturday’s practice. “I’m used to these matchups. I’m used to playing against the best offensive guy in these moments. That’ll be my role. Not to say Corey (Brewer)
won’t guard (Mitchell), but that’ll definitely be my role, especially late in games, is to take that matchup.”
George spent some time guarding Mitchell in the regular season, but the Thunder and Jazz wrapped the regular-season series on Dec. 23, before a seasonending injury to Andre Roberson.
In the three games Mitchell played against the Thunder this season, Roberson guarded him on 78 possessions, George 27. Mitchell was 12 of 20 from the floor against Roberson and 4 for 7 against George. Westbrook guarded him for 38 possessions on which Mitchell shot 4 for 9.
But George figures to take on the bulk of the defensive assignment against Mitchell now that Roberson is out of the picture. And it’s a bigger responsibility than it was early in the season.
Mitchell averaged 18.2 points in 35 games during October, November and December and 22.3 in 44 games in January through the end of the regular season.
“He’s a really good attacking guard in the open floor and in transition,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Obviously with the way he can shoot it, I think his strength and physicality. He does a lot of different things for them in transition and in half court, while also creating for himself.”
Slowing down Mitchell’s offense will fall in large part on George, and he’s fine with that.
When George’s Pacers faced the Miami Heat in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference playoffs, George frequently guarded LeBron James.
So he’s accustomed to a two-way role as “Playoff P,” an alter ego George described as “an out of body person.”
“It’s almost like a different gear,” George said. “It’s a different feeling. Adrenaline’s going, and then you just know it’s playoff time. It’s not time to be tired or fatigued. You just go into a different place.”
Westbrook, George talk Brian Davis
With the playoffs less than a day away, the Thunder is moving forward from TV play-by-play announcer Brian Davis’s controversial comments in the final regular-season game.
Following Davis saying Westbrook was out of his “cotton-picking mind” on a live Fox Sports Oklahoma broadcast in the Thunder’s win against Memphis to close the regular season, the longtime broadcaster apologized publicly and met with the team.
“Brian has been here for a while. What he said wasn’t OK,” Westbrook said Saturday at practice. “We all understand that.
“But he definitely came in and talk(ed) to us. The team has made the decision to do what they need to do. We just have to move on from it.”
Davis was suspended by the team for Sunday’s Game 1. Thunder radio play-by-play announcer Matt Pinto will replace Davis on the TV broadcast.
Corey Brewer and Alex Abrines continue to progress toward playing in Sunday’s series opener, but there’s still no definitive answer if they’ll be active. Abrines, who has been in the concussion protocol since the Thunder’s April 9 win in Miami, didn’t participate in contact portions of practice Saturday. Brewer, who suffered a right knee sprain April 11 against Memphis, was involved in some contact drills after not practicing on Thursday . ... Westbrook on playing Thunder assistant and soon-to-be NBA Hall of Fame inductee Maurice Cheeks in one-onone: “Yeah, he’s still got it. He can move a little bit. But I still kicked his a**.”
BRETT DAWSON AND ERIK HORNE, STAFF WRITERS
Paul George, left, and Donovan Mitchell will face off on Sunday when the Thunder hosts the Jazz in Game 1 of a first-round Western Conference playoff series.