Even though they would eventually shed the final year of Carmelo Anthony’s contract, turning it into the acquisition of Dennis Schroder, the Thunder knew the signing of Paul George to a max contract last offseason meant they’d be paying a whole lot of money in salary and the luxury tax.
Despite that, about the first thing general manager Sam Presti did after signing George was sign somebody else:
He’d averaged 20.3 minutes, 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 2017-18 and the Thunder inked him to a $27.3 million, three-year deal.
It’s not like one game can turn any contract into a bargain, but it is like Grant put an exclamation point on what he’s been doing all season for the Thunder in Wednesday night’s come-from-behind and much-needed 107-99 victory over Indiana.
“I thought he did a great job protecting the rim,” coach Billy Donovan said.
That's what stuck out the most.
Grant’s blocked shots on back-to-back third-quarter Pacer possessions were terrific examples of his athleticism and kept Indiana off the board at a time the Thunder trailed. However, they proved even bigger when they became the accelerant to a torrid 24-0 Thunder run.
Afterward, Thunder center Steven Adams — who enjoyed his own huge night: 25 points, 12 rebounds — marveled at Grant’s defense.
“Even his contests are ridiculously tough to finish [through],” Adams said. “But he also gets a block, which means there’s no shot. Someone like me, I have no verticality. They’re still able to finish.”
Adams may be being too hard on himself, yet still it’s true that Grant offers another dimension as a shot blocker, as well as one who understands the intangible impact shot blocking.
“I did it to give us energy,” Grant said of two third-quarter stuffs.
It was only a part of what he did. Grant also finished with 19 points on 7 of 16 shooting, including 5 of 8 3-point shooting.
Though those numbers are better than typical, Grant’s season at large has still been excellent.
He’s averaging 13.3 points, almost five more than last season; 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 more than last season; he’s shooting 49.9 percent from the field and a career- and team-best 39.0 percent from 3-point land.
Think about that.
Statistically, Paul George is not Oklahoma City’s best 3-point shooter. Instead, that player is Grant.
While he’s playing more and more like a star, his take on himself remains humble.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive, trying to get the win,” he said. “Whatever my teammates need me to do. I think they did a great job of finding me open in the corner and a great job of facilitating the offense.”
Also, Grant, who’s played in all but two games this season, appears to be making a late-season push.
While the Thunder have struggled since the All-Star break, Grant’s averages have been better than his collective season: 14.1 points, 42.9 percent 3-point shooting, 5.8 rebounds.
Then there’s the defense, which was very much on display Wednesday.
“I thought his rim protection and the way he tried to chase shots and to block shots and cover for other guys was really helpful and impactful in the game,” Donovan said.
Down the final stretch of the season, all eyes will be on the Thunder’s stars, Westbrook and George.
When Grant goes off the way he did against the Pacers, it may feel like a bonus.
Tonight, the No. 2 team in the Western Conference visits Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Denver and Oklahoma City tip off at 7 p.m.
The Thunder may need that bonus again.
Indiana at Oklahoma City
Time: 7 p.m.
Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena
Records: Denver 50-23, Thunder 44-31
Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1