The ‘T’ word

Trust­ing each other is es­sen­tial for the Thun­der.

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE -

NEW YORK — Paul Ge­orge scored so many points, with such fury and va­ri­ety at the Bar­clays Cen­ter on Wed­nes­day night, that it was easy to over­look the most im­por­tant pos­ses­sion of the Thun­der’s sea­son.

In the midst of Ge­orge com­bust­ing into flames dur­ing the fourth quar­ter of the Thun­der’s 114112 win against the Nets, he was cool enough to pass to Jerami Grant for a wide-open 3-pointer. On the same play, Rus­sell West­brook was on task enough to slot a back­door pass to a cut­ting Ge­orge to set up his drive.

This was not with a healthy lead. This was trail­ing by five with less than three min­utes to go — the game in the hands of two ball-dom­i­nant All-Stars, then handed off to Grant be­cause it was the right play.

Be­cause Ge­orge trusted in Grant.

The “T-word” has been thrown around as a nec­es­sary de­vel­op­ment if the Thun­der will ever get back to the apex of the NBA. Even in Ge­orge’s in­di­vid­ual bril­liance at the Bar­clays Cen­ter on Wed­nes­day, trust was there.

“Trust. Trust. Trust,” Ge­orge said, cut­ting into the ques­tion when asked what that play said about the Thun­der. “We trust each other.

“Every­body in that arena knew I had the hot hand and ex­pected me to make the shot. I trust JG. He was wide open.”

The only pos­ses­sion bet­ter than that for the Thun­der on Wed­nes­day was Ge­orge’s game win­ner, West­brook draw­ing the at­ten­tion of the de­fense, then self­lessly flip­ping back to Ge­orge for the go-ahead 3-pointer.

As re­cently as two weeks ago, the Thun­der’s ded­i­ca­tion to seek­ing the right shot has dis­ap­peared in a seven-point loss to Den­ver. In­stead, on Wed­nes­day the Thun­der be­came the last team this sea­son to have a game de­cided by three points or fewer.

This sea­son’s been a com­bi­na­tion of the Thun­der pun­ish­ing good and bad teams alike — 10 of its 16 wins have been by dou­ble dig­its — and OKC oc­ca­sion­ally play­ing it­self out of chances to close games be­cause of a lack of trust.

For all the Thun­der’s suc­cess this sea­son, it hasn’t come in the fourth quar­ter of close games — a junc­ture in which West­brook has seized con­trol for bet­ter and worse in the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons.

The bad fin­ishes tend to stand out more — 43 shots against Utah in Game 6 of last sea­son’s Western Con­fer­ence first round, ques­tion­able late game 3-point at­tempts ear­lier this sea­son against Bos­ton, 0-of-5 from 3-point range in the fourth quar­ter against Den­ver two weeks ago, in­clud­ing an ill-ad­vised 3-pointer in a two-pos­ses­sion game late. Those games still pop up dur­ing what’s been a pre­dom­i­nantly con­trolled sea­son from West­brook thus far.

Look be­tween the cracks and you’ll find the Thun­der is play­ing a bet­ter ver­sion of bas­ket­ball.

West­brook was at the front of come­backs against Char­lotte and Brook­lyn in which he racked up a com­bined 27 as­sists to five turnovers. He laid waste to Golden State by get­ting off the ball early in pos­ses­sions to get Den­nis Schroder, the hot hand Oak­land, fre­quent touches.

The Thun­der’s trust fac­tor tends to get mag­ni­fied when the shots go in, but it’s been there in games they weren’t fall­ing, too. Even be­fore Ge­orge det­o­nated in the last 7 ½ min­utes Wed­nes­day, the Thun­der came out of half­time with the in­ten­tion to chip away through Steven Adams touches rather than jack up mind­less shots.

“I don’t think any of it is on Russ or Paul,” Thun­der coach Billy Dono­van said be­fore Wed­nes­day’s game when asked about the cause of the Thun­der’s poor shoot­ing per­cent­ages. OKC is last in 3-point per­cent­age (31.2 per­cent) and 20th in field goal per­cent­age (45). “The bot­tom line is our shoot­ing hasn’t been great, but when you look at the met­rics, we’ve gen­er­ated re­ally good shots.

“Rus­sell and Paul have done a good job, as has Den­nis, of gen­er­at­ing shots for other guys. As long as we con­tinue to take the kind of shots we’re get­ting, I think you’ll con­tinue to see guys’ shoot­ing per­cent­ages start to raise and get bet­ter. I like the things we’re do­ing and how we’re try­ing to play of­fen­sively.”

For the Thun­der, it’s al­ways been a mat­ter of sus­tain­ing that style of play, that trust­ing men­tal­ity. Wed­nes­day was an­other step in the right di­rec­tion be­cause it con­tin­ued at the game’s most crit­i­cal time.

“That’s what we’ve got to do to get the cham­pi­onship,” Schroder said. “We’ve got to be un­selfish, we’ve got to trust each other.”

Thun­der for­ward Paul Ge­orge said team mem­bers trust each other when it comes to shoot­ing the bas­ket­ball.

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