Paul George rang in the New Year by beating his hometown team.
George got booed every time he touched the ball, but still torched the Lakers for 37 points, as the Oklahoma City Thunder rolled into 2019 with a 107-100 victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The L.A. local from nearby Palmdale was expected to join the Lakers in the offseason after becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer. Instead, George spurned his childhood team, by refusing a meeting with Magic Johnson and the Lakers brass, and signed a four-year, $137 million contract to stay in Oklahoma City.
George was booed by the Staples Center crowd during pregame introductions, but promptly quieted the masses by defeating the Lakers, leading the Thunder in scoring in the process.
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"I don't want to say he was extra amped for this game, but obviously the Lakers have great history and tradition, it's a great place to play, great environment," said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan when asked if he thought George played more angry or emotional during the game.
The Lakers players noticed that he did.
"We heard what the crowd was doing and saying," said Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. "He was aggressive. He fed off that. Paul George is a great player. He came back really aggressive in the second half."
Six different Thunder players scored in double-figures, but George was the only offense they needed on this night.
"I think he was great," said Donovan of George. "I thought he did a good job of getting into the flow of the game."
Steven Adams had 14 points and 15 rebounds, Jerami Grant added 13 points, and Dennis Schroder and Abdel Nader each had 10 points off the bench.
Russell Westbrook was awful from the field, shooting 3-for-20, but he still managed to record his 115th career triple-double with 14 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists.
"Scoring is just part of my game," said Westbrook. "I do everything, so on nights like that I'm able to impact the game in other ways."
The highlight of the game came in the first half when George drained a three-pointer in front of former teammate Lance Stephenson. The shot prompted Westbrook to mock Stephenson by impersonating his patented air guitar celebration.
Caldwell-Pope led the Lakers with a game-high 25 points and five three-pointers. It was the second straight game he's led the team in scoring.
"I've been staying aggressive and staying in a good rhythm," said Caldwell-Pope of his scoring surge. "I'm just taking my shots when I'm open and not forcing anything."
Brandon Ingram had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Josh Hart had 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds in a starting roll, and JaVale McGee chipped in 15.
"We put a big emphasis on rebounding, so I wanted to help on the glass," said Hart of his big night on the boards. "Obviously Bron [LeBron] is out, Rondo is out, Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] is out. It's a part of the game, but all of us are ready to step up."
The closely fought game was a back-and-forth battle with eight different lead changes, and 11 ties, as no team led by more than six points until the Thunder pulled away in the final two minutes by going on an 11-0 run.
"I'm not going to make excuses, so I'm not going to say we're tired or anything like that," said Hart of the team's scoring drought that ultimately led to the loss. "We just have to execute and if we are tired, we have to find times to catch our breath or call a timeout. We're not going to make excuses, we could have and should have won."
Both teams struggled from the field with the Lakers shooting 41 percent and the Thunder even worse at 38 percent.
The Thunder got more offensive rebounds (17) and more second chance opportunities (12), but the Lakers had nine blocks compared to the Thunder with just five.
"They are a big, strong, physical team," said Lakers head coach Luke Walton of the disparity on the offensive glass. "That was a big part of our scouting: to keep them off the glass. We didn't do that tonight."
The Lakers continued to struggle from the free throw line shooting a paltry 59 percent, but may have met their equal as the Thunder shot just 64 percent from the line.
"We have to fix it," said Lonzo Ball who missed three free throws himself. "If we want to win in the playoffs we have to miss free throws. I obviously have to make mine and the rest of the guys that get to the line."
Kyle Kuzma left the game in the first half with a lower back contusion, and did not return to the game. He will undergo an MRI on Thursday morning and be reevaluated.
The Thunder are rapidly rising in the Western Conference, winners of seven of their last 10 games. On the flip side, the Lakers are in a freefall without LeBron, losing three of their last four without their superstar.
We Don't Need You
Fans started chanting, "We Don't Need You!" towards Paul George as he shot free throws late in the fourth quarter. Many expected George would sign with the Lakers in the offseason, or at the very least take a meeting with them.
"I thought he was going to sign here," admitted Lakers center Tyson Chandler after the game.
Notes and Next
LeBron James missed his fourth consecutive game with a strained left groin. Rajon Rondo missed the game with a torn ligament on his right ring finger.
The Lakers will host the New York Knicks on Friday night at Staples Center.