Ge­orge makes it rain to drown out LA boos

China Daily - - SPORTS -

LOS AN­GE­LES — Paul Ge­orge got booed last sea­son in In­di­anapo­lis be­cause he left. He got booed by Lak­ers fans on Wed­nes­day night be­cause he never ar­rived.

The Ok­la­homa City star learned from the first ex­pe­ri­ence and trans­lated it into a per­for­mance that qui­etened Sta­ples Cen­ter.

Ge­orge scored 37 points while get­ting jeered when­ever he touched the ball by Lak­ers fans still an­gry he didn’t choose their team in free agency, lead­ing the Thun­der to a 107-100 vic­tory over Los An­ge­les.

Rus­sell West­brook had 14 points, 16 re­bounds and 10 as­sists de­spite 3-for-20 shoot­ing, but his fel­low South­ern Cal­i­for­nia na­tive was the cen­ter of at­ten­tion.

“I was pre­pared for it,” Ge­orge said. “I’m the bad guy, and that’s fine.”

The boos started in pregame in­tro­duc­tions for Ge­orge, whose per­ceived crime is his de­ci­sion to re-sign quickly with Ok­la­homa City when he be­came a free agent last sum­mer de­spite years of mu­tual in­ter­est be­tween the scor­ing sen­sa­tion and the Lak­ers.

Ge­orge grew up idol­iz­ing Kobe Bryant while root­ing for both the Lak­ers and Clip­pers in Palm­dale, Cal­i­for­nia, on the far-flung edge of LA sub­ur­bia. Yet he didn’t even deign to meet with the Lak­ers about a re­turn to his home state af­ter years of hope­ful spec­u­la­tion by Lak­ers fans and Magic John­son, who wanted to team him with LeBron James.

“I’m not the only guy from SoCal, the LA area, that didn’t de­cide to play here,” Ge­orge said. “You can go down the whole list of guys from this beau­ti­ful city. It is what it is. The de­ci­sion has been made. No ill will.”

At least not on Ge­orge’s part — but he got the last laugh on his haters de­spite strug­gling with early foul trou­ble.

Af­ter col­lect­ing 13 points in the sec­ond quar­ter and 11 more in the third, Ge­orge scored nine points in the fourth while the Thun­der ral­lied from a five-point deficit and eas­ily held on for their sev­enth win in 10 games.

“I feel like every game is im­por­tant to him, so I don’t want to say that he was ex­tra amped up for this game,” Ok­la­homa City coach Billy Dono­van said.

“Ob­vi­ously the Lak­ers have great his­tory, great tra­di­tion. It’s a great place to play, great en­vi­ron­ment ... but as it re­lates to his per­sonal feel­ings, I think he’s prob­a­bly best to an­swer that.”

When Ge­orge re­turned to face the Pac­ers on Dec 13, 2017, he man­aged just 12 points on 3-of-14 shoot­ing amid scathing boos. He had been traded five months ear­lier af­ter seven sea­sons with the Pac­ers, who shipped him to Ok­la­homa City in­stead of the Lak­ers, widely thought to be his pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion.

“I thought I han­dled it bet­ter tonight, given I’ve been in that sit­u­a­tion be­fore in Indy now,” Ge­orge said. “It was just be­ing locked, be­ing ready. In Indy, I ex­pected to be booed, but I didn’t know to what ex­tent. Here, com­ing into this sit­u­a­tion, I knew what to ex­pect.”

Ken­tavi­ous Cald­well-Pope scored 18 of his 25 points in the first half for the Lak­ers, who dropped to 1-3 dur­ing James’ ab­sence with a groin in­jury. Los An­ge­les has lost six of nine af­ter manag­ing just six field goals in the fourth quar­ter, along with its usual aw­ful free-throw shoot­ing.

“It was fun,” Ge­orge said. “The boo­ing wasn’t go­ing to throw me off my game. I’ve been play­ing bas­ket­ball for a re­ally long time. A lit­tle boo­ing and a lit­tle noise wasn’t go­ing to make me for­get how to play bas­ket­ball.”

Some Lak­ers fans still chanted “We don’t need you!” at Ge­orge in the fourth quar­ter while he sewed up the win.

“I thought the ef­fort and com­pet­i­tive level was top-notch for us,” Lak­ers coach Luke Wal­ton said. “We were get­ting good looks. We just weren’t mak­ing them.”

JAYNE KAMIN-ONCEA / USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Ok­la­homa City Thun­der guard Ter­rance Fer­gu­son pro­pels him­self over Los An­ge­les Lak­ers guard Josh Hart as he at­tempts to block a shot dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s NBA game at Sta­ples Cen­ter in LA.

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