THUNDER: Force it or let it happen? George seeking right balance

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) is fouled by Portland Trail Blazers forward Meyers Leonard, right, in the first half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Friday, April 19, 2019, in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY — How for Paul George to get his groove back?

It’s a good question and one for which there appears to be at least two sides and the funny thing is how George seems to be on both of them.

Three games into the playoffs and he has yet to shoot well from distance.

In Game 2, George made 11 of 20 shots, but 2 of 7 from 3-point land. In Game 3, he was 2 of 7 again from distance and 1 of 9 from everywhere else.

Game 4 arrives at 8:30 this evening inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

All told, George has made 36.7 percent (22 of 60) of his shots and 27.6 percent (8 of 29) of his attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.

He’s averaging 25 points in the series on volume and free throws, hitting 23 of 27 from the charity stripe.

Still, George’s efficiency as a field goal and 3-point shooter are an issue for a Thunder team needing to win tonight to have any reasonable hope to emerge victorious in the series.

“I’m going to shoot the ball better. I’m going to make the game easier,” George said following Game 3, a 120-108 OKC victory. “I’m just getting myself in bad position and overdribbling. Just got to get to spots, raise up and shoot with confidence.”

Saturday, following Thunder practice, George offered a similar, yet slightly different take, referencing other parts of the season in which he’d had more offensive success.

“At the beginning of the year, I was one sharp move, two sharp moves, and I was raising up, or I was at the rim,” he said. “Whereas now, I’m trying to see, ‘All right, how are they guarding, how are they going to do this,’ where I’m just thinking too much. So, just simplifying the game and that will get me in a better rhythm.”

A minute later, asked about his role as a distributor — George dished six assists in Game 3 — he appeared to disagree with himself.

“That’s what I’ve got to do,” he said. “Knowing how successful I was scoring the ball against this team [in the regular season], that can’t be my mindset going into each game, that I’ve got to score. I’ve got to let the game come to me.

“That’s what I’ve been so great at this season, is letting the game come to me, knowing when to attack and knowing when to set up guys. Just play the game. Just get lost in the game and let the game dictate where the shots are coming from and I’ll live with it.”

What George might have been doing during his post-practice Q and A was working out the issue in real time.

It sounds like he wants to be assertive, aggressive, committed and bold, yet doesn’t want to force it and take bad shots.

Of course, it’s not like Portland hasn’t been doing all it can to bother him, too.

“We’re just executing our game plan, throwing different guys at him, using our length,” Trail Blazer guard CJ McCollum said. “We’ve got a lot of good defenders on this team and we’re just trying to put him in uncomfortable positions.”

Thursday, the day before Game 3, like a prophet, George predicted the shots would start falling for his teammates.

That happened, with Jerami Grant turning seven attempts from the field into 17 points and Grant, Terrance Ferguson and Dennis Schroder combining to make 9 of 12 3-point attempts.

Grant returned the confidence favor following Saturday’s practice. George’s shots, he believes, are bound to go in.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “I mean, everybody knows the caliber of player Paul is, so I’m not worried at all about that.”

George didn’t sound worried either. What he sounded like was a player seeking the right balance.

Perhaps he’ll find it.

Game 4

Portland at Oklahoma City

Series: Blazers lead 2-1

Time: 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena

TV: TNT and FSOK

Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1

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