Paul George went to the free-throw line to attempt two free throws for his injured teammate Terrance Ferguson. As he waited to take the shots, a section of fans at Staples Center began to chant four words at him.
“We don’t need you!”
George made the two free throws and the chant didn’t catch on. Moments later, his dunk gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a 10-point lead that was too much for the Lakers to overcome.
Wednesday night, George showed the Lakers just what they missed out on when he chose to stay in Oklahoma City without even meeting with the Lakers. Behind 37 points from George — and only four of those in the first quarter — the Thunder beat the short-handed Lakers 107-100 as LeBron James and Rajon Rondo watched from the bench.
Russell Westbrook finished with a triple double, but made only three of his 20 shots and one of seven three-point shots.
The Lakers were led by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 25 points, 18 of them in the first half, when he took over for Kyle Kuzma, who left in the second quarter because of a back injury. Kuzma is having an MRI exam Thursday.
“I thought the effort and the compete level was top notch for us,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “You try to give yourself a chance to win the game. … We gotta work on cleaning up fourth quarters. … We gotta continue to trust in the pass and trust in each other no matter what down the stretch. Oklahoma city did a nice job of turning their defense up.”
For most of the fourth quarter, the Lakers couldn’t score a field goal. The drought started after a basket by Ivica Zubac with 11 minutes 29 seconds to play. It ended when Josh Hart made a layup with 5:13 left.
The Lakers were lucky that the Thunder scored only nine points during that span, giving L.A. an opportunity to cut the deficit to 91-88.
But George returned to the court with 5:12 remaining. He scored five quick points to give the Thunder a six-point lead.
As the game began, the crowd was eager to show George its displeasure, booing him often.
His forgettable first quarter, which included four points and three fouls, emboldened them.
Neither team shot well to open the game. Not until Caldwell-Pope hit one with 1:50 left in the first quarter did the Lakers make their first three-point basket after missing their first seven tries.
The Thunder made their first three-point basket in the closing seconds of the first quarter, having also missed their first seven attempts. During that period, the teams combined to make only two of 18 three-point shots.
Just before halftime, George’s game turned.
Westbrook stole the ball from Brandon Ingram with 3:57 left in the second quarter and raced toward the basket with only Lonzo Ball in front of him. But George wasn’t far behind him.
Instead of trying to score, Westbrook lofted the ball for George, who dunked it forcefully and then slapped the backboard before coming down. He got a technical foul and motioned a “T” with his hands as he ran down the court, scowling.
It was the start of an awakening for Staples Center’s latest villain.
“Heard what the crowd was doing, seeing his aggression toward that, kind of felt like he fed off that a little bit,” Caldwell-Pope said. “But Paul George is a great player. He missed a lot of shots in the first half but came back real aggressive in the second half.”
After a first quarter in which George scored four points and committed three fouls, after a start to the game in which he missed six three-point shots, George roared back to life and relished his black hat. He scored seven consecutive points, including his first three-pointer.
After hitting a jumper near halftime on which his former teammate Lance Stephenson fouled him, George bellowed at the crowd that had been jeering him. Westbrook launched into an air guitar, mimicking Stephenson’s typical three-pointer celebration.