It’s been 245 days since Paul George played his final game as a member of the Thunder inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Today, George will return to Oklahoma City as a visitor for the first time since February 19, 2016. George’s stint in the 405 was short. PG played two seasons in a Thunder jersey. He appeared in 156 games, averaging 36.7 minutes while scoring 25 points, grabbing 6.9 rebounds, dishing 3.7 assists, and snatching 2.1 steals per game.1
Where George truly shined was on the offensive end of the hardwood. During his Thunder tenure, PG logged 43.4 percent accuracy from the floor, 39.2 percent from the perimeter, and 83.2 percent from the foul line. Impressively, George’s 3-point percentage is the second-highest in franchise history2, trailing only Anthony Morrow.
Prior to PG’s first game back in OKC. we’re taking a trip down memory lane, remembering some of George’s most memorable moments with the club. I enlisted the help of some Thunder fans and local media members to help construct the list. Let the reminiscing begin.
Sam Presti took a leap of fate when he traded for a disgruntled George. PG had only one year left on his deal when he requested the Pacers move him. The destination he had in mind was not Oklahoma City. Despite a first-round exit courtesy of the Utah Jazz, the Thunder’s year-long recruiting efforts paid off as George stunned the NBA world and re-upped to stay put in OKC. After a two-game road trip to open the 2018-19 regular season, the Thunder returned to the Peake for their home opener. George was greeted with a resounding ovation and, fittingly, it was George who hit the first shot of the contest.
Oklahoma native, rapper, and philanthropist Jabee shared this as his favorite PG moment because he was “so hyped” George decided to stay. Jabee added that Russell Westbrook had just introduced him to George at the infamous re-signing party.
He Did Want it
Due to consecutive first-round flameouts, Game 5 of the 2018 Thunder/Jazz series is the only playoff game to appear on this list, and deservedly so. Utah looked to be well on their way to the second round, up 3-1 in the series and building their lead as large as 25. This inspired former Thunder backup guard Raymond Felton to ask a question: “Do you want it?” Coming out of intermission, it took George and the Thunder a moment to respond. PG and Westbrook shouldered the bulk of the scoring as the duo contributed 79 of the Thunder’s 107 points.
Cumulus producer Matt Kappele shared about that special night inside the Peake:
“I was there. I sat seven rows up from the court. It was a miraculous comeback that I thought was impossible, yet somehow we did it, with PG helping lead the charge. It was an amazing feeling. The rally brought some fans to tears within the crowd. The environment was pretty much as if everyone was revived from a coma very slowly. It was dead when we were down so big. Then we slowly chipped away at that lead, and the crowd started coming alive. One of the coolest experiences I’ve witnessed in that arena.“
George scored 34 of those 79 points, but it was his two assists that left his largest fingerprints on the match. PG’s first assist came on Westbrook’s trey to deadlock the contest at 78 with two seconds remaining in the third period. PG recorded his second assist on Russ’s 3-pointer that put the Thunder ahead for good with 6:17 left in the fourth, cementing the largest postseason comeback in franchise history. This is what Thunder fan and Blue season-ticket holder Dorothy Shea recalls from PG’s performance: “That was the best game I saw him play! He was on fire! He brought the team back!”
Coming Back with a Bang
Coming out of the All-Star break, some teams are a bit sluggish and slowly ease back into form. Last season the Thunder and Jazz did not fit into that mold. The squads put together a ravishing performance for the ages. Westbrook contributed 43 points, carrying Oklahoma City throughout this match. However, it was Paul George who pushed them across the finish line. George dropped a 45-piece of his own, the most striking aspect is that 25 of those came in the fourth quarter and overtime. Two Thunder fans selected this contest as their favorite PG memory, but their responses greatly differed. Jeremy S reluctantly chose this match, then revealed he was initially excited when OKC acquired George, but overall he was not a big PG fan.
Whereas Gannon Mendez, owner of OKC’s award-winning Saucee Sicilian, picked this match as his top on-court PG moment. Stating George was “unstoppable”, Mendez then added his overall favorite PG memory came when “he dominated 15 of Nonna’s Sauce and Balls along with 3 Palermo pizzas in one sitting”. If you were wondering, both of those items are sold at Mendez’s notorious food truck. Among all 137 40-point individual scoring outbursts in the 2018-19 campaign, PG and Russ were the only teammates to drop 40 or more in the same game. George capped the magical evening by hitting a high-arcing game-winning floater over the overstretched arms of Utah’s cornerstone center Rudy Gobert.
Big Night In Brooklyn
Full disclosure, this was also one of my favorite games from last season. Given what transpired this summer, the match in early December will forever serve as what could have been for the PG era of Thunder basketball. This was not PG’s first game-winner of the season, and it wasn’t his last. With that said, his performance inside Barclay’s Center might have been his best in 2018-19. George was magnificent on both ends of the hardwood: to go along with his 47-points, he added four assists, a season-high 15 rebounds, and limited his defensive matchup to a sparse 12 points throughout 79 possessions.
Gideon Hamilton, Sports Animal producer and host for their Thunder pre- and post-game shows, selected this match, and particularly George’s game-winner as his favorite PG moment:
“It showed his incredible shot-making skills and the way he defended illustrated his desire to win.”
There is no question this moment belongs on PG’s OKC career highlight reel. Heck, this shot from George might have been the highlight of the year for Oklahoma City. The sequence was flawless, starting with the inbound, followed by Westbrook’s play read, then finally concluding with PG’s textbook side-step, which left Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie flying past him as he reset and launched a lethal three.
Slamming the Door on the Sixers
Upon coming up short while making history versus the Lakers a game before, it was apparent George was not going to allow OKC to come up short in Philly in a January contest last season.
At the half, Oklahoma City held a narrow 59-56 lead. Heading into the fourth, OKC possessed an 88-79 lead. Throughout the match, the Thunder built a lead as large as 16. Things began unraveling in the fourth, as the Sixers chipped away at Oklahoma City’s once large lead. Then Westbrook picked up his sixth and final foul on a questionable call while contesting a Joel Embiid 3-point attempt. Embiid approached the foul line and sank all three freebies, pushing the Thunder to the brink.
With Westbrook forced to watch the final play from the sideline, it was up to everyone else to execute the inbound play. Billy Donovan pegged Terrance Ferguson as the in-bounder, who found a cutting George for a catch-and-shoot three, which he nailed. In addition to making the shot, PG also drew a foul. Oklahoma City Thunder drum team captain Chris Watson recalled how the previous steal by the Sixers had put them up by two. Watson believed Philly thought the match was over until PG delivered a big nope. In a scenario where the Thunder only needed two, PG was able to conjure up four helping the Thunder escape with a 118-115 victory.
The Grand Finale
In a match now known as Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Jerami Grant’s final regular-season home game as members of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the former All-Star duo provided a huge win, a raging comeback, and an exclamation point game-winning shot. In an alternate universe, this game could have served as a deciding factor in who would win MVP. However due to George’s shoulder injuries and the Thunder’s slippage in the standings, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo had separated themselves in an MVP arms race.
The Rockets held control for the majority of the game. Heading into the fourth, Houston possessed a 93-80 lead. Then the tide turned. In the fourth, Oklahoma City bested the Rockets by scoring 32 big points while limiting H-Town to a mere 18. With roughly one minute remaining, the Rockets had regained their footing, taking a four-point 108-104 lead after two Harden free throws. Then Chris Paul stole the inbound pass. Fortunately, he missed a 3-point shot that would have put the game away. Russ corralled the rebound, bolted down the hardwood and drained a three of his own.
The Thunder were not back in the contest yet. They required a little luck as they began hacking one of the league’s best foul shooters. The basketball gods granted them just that as Harden missed his second foul shot. With no timeouts left and roughly 10 seconds remaining in the contest, the Rockets provided a fullcourt press on Westbrook. He narrowly navigated through the tight defense, and almost immediately after crossing half-court, Russ found PG in the corner for the shot of the season. A corner trey that George caught, shot, and nailed, giving the Thunder a one-point advantage and leaving one second left on the game clock. It was a shot that OKC barber Corey Sutter, better known as Scissorhands, remembers as the moment George “finally” hit a buzzer-beater.
Upon PG’s shot ripping through the net, the crowd instantly erupted with exuberance, high fives galore, and strangers hugging each other like family. Saying the scene was a playoff-like atmosphere would be an understatement. At that moment, nobody fathomed this was PG and Russ’ final regular-season home game with the Thunder. As it turned out, it was, and there could not have been a better regular-season home finale for the short-lived dynamic duo.
Although George spent only two seasons in Oklahoma City and did not appear in 82 games in either campaign, he still created memories that will last a lifetime in the 405. When George arrived, he probably did not know what to expect from Oklahoma City. Being greeted by hundreds of fans at the airport got things off to a pretty good start. As one of those fans stated on that afternoon: “first impressions are everything!”
Ahead of his return this evening, on behalf of myself and any other Thunder fans: thank you, Paul. Thank you for embracing the Thunder. Thank you for giving it a second chance. Thanks for allowing the franchise to re-coup the future with a monster draft package. And most importantly, thank you for embracing our community. George has moved on. With each passing day, Thunder fans press onward as well. If you will be in attendance this evening, I encourage you to give George a raucous ovation. If you decide to boo, that’s okay too. Either way, just remind Mr. George how resounding Loud City can be.
Thank you, oh so much to everyone who responded and contributed to this piece. Your comments were greatly appreciated.