‘Play­off P’ pre­pared to de­fend Utah’s Mitchell

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NBA PALYOFFS -

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.

Tip-ins

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

BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN] [PHOTO BY

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.

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