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Chris Paul, Thunder Spoil Paul George's Return; Beat Clippers Without Kawhi

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst IIIDecember 23, 2019

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives to the basket around Los Angeles Clippers guard Rodney McGruder (19) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

The Oklahoma City Thunder won their fourth straight game by beating the visiting Los Angeles Clippers 118-112 in Paul George's return to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday night.

The Clippers were without reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who was resting for the second game of a back-to-back, and point guard Patrick Beverley (groin).

It also marked Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari's first time facing the Clippers in OKC since they were sent to the Thunder in this summer's blockbuster trade that landed George in L.A.

Gallinari did not play, however, while dealing with a sore ankle. Gilgeous-Alexander tied his career high with 32 points against his former team.

The Clippers led by 18 points at the 5:33 mark in the second quarter but quickly saw their advantage evaporate when the Thunder went on a 10-0 run. From then on, it seemed like Oklahoma City's game to lose. The Thunder took the lead for the last time when Dennis Schroder hit a three-pointer to put his squad up 108-106 with 1:47 left in regulation.

L.A. was outplayed in the paint with Oklahoma City tallying 16 offensive rebounds and 60 points underneath, per The Athletic's Jovan Buha.

The Thunder improved to 15-14 after hitting .500 for the first time this season Friday.

The Clippers fell to 22-10 while they chase the 24-5 Los Angeles Lakers atop the Western Conference. The crosstown rivals will clash on Christmas Day at Staples Center.

     

Notable Stats

OKC G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 32 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals

OKC G Dennis Schroder: 28 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal

OKC C Steven Adams: 20 points, 17 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals

OKC G Chris Paul: 12 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists

LAC G Lou Williams: 22 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists

LAC F Paul George: 18 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals

LAC F Montrezl Harrell: 18 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist

LAC G Landry Shamet: 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals

     

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Reminds Clippers Why He Was Their First-Round Draft Pick

Prior to Friday, Gilgeous-Alexander had not registered a 30-point game in his career.

The 21-year-old now has back-to-back 32-point outings:

Bleacher Report NBA @BR_NBA

Shai matches his career-high with a 32-point performance vs. former squad Back-to-back big bucket games ♨️ https://t.co/gfu8vMnHl5

That included a 19-point first half to cut into the Clippers' 18-point lead:

NBA TV @NBATV

SGA has 19 points in the first half as he tries to keep OKC in it! 👀 #ThunderUp https://t.co/Pw2xXBa0GP

The Clippers had trouble containing not just Gilgeous-Alexander but guards Chris Paul and Schroder as well. Schroder notched 16 fourth-quarter points but commended Gilgeous-Alexander in his postgame comments:

FOX Sports Oklahoma @FOXSportsOK

After a huge fourth quarter Dennis Schröder talked about taking over down the stretch. #ThunderUp | @OKCThunder https://t.co/N1Cmt54FQQ

When Russell Westbrook was still in Oklahoma City, it was a one-man show in the backcourt. Since his departure to Houston, however, Paul is leading a more collaborative effort alongside Gilgeous-Alexander and Schroder.

Gilgeous-Alexander poked some fun at his mentor while meeting with the media:

Royce Young @royceyoung

Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a little race to try and get in the media scrum first. “I know you had 32...” Paul said. SGA concedes and responded, “I’m gonna respect your old a—.”

"I am not Russell Westbrook," Gilgeous-Alexander told reporters in August following his trade from the Clippers to the Thunder. "We don't have the same name, the same body type, nothing like that. So I'm going to try to be myself and be the best me, and everything else will take care of itself."

So far, following that M.O. has worked out for both Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder. The Clippers certainly aren't regretting giving up what they had to in order to pair George with Leonard, but Gilgeous-Alexander outplayed George.

Oklahoma City has to be pleasantly surprised with just how quickly Gilgeous-Alexander has acclimated. The Kentucky product entered Sunday night as the Thunder's leading scorer, averaging 18.6 points per game, and looks to be developing into OKC's new franchise face.

Showing out against his former team only escalates that narrative.

     

Paul George Receives Warm Welcome but Underwhelms in OKC Return

George won't leave Chesapeake Energy Arena with the result he wanted against the Thunder, with whom he spent the last two seasons, but the six-time All-Star was greeted warmly before tip:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

OKC gave Paul George a loud ovation in his first return as a Clipper 👏 (via @AndrewGreif) https://t.co/V8laufkCNZ

Joe Mussatto @joe_mussatto

Friendly greetings all around. https://t.co/qWcu8l44ir

Royce Young @royceyoung

In the past, it's been standard the Thunder to not do tribute videos for returning players, but this was a subtle step toward one. It was handled very well and the fans received it with appreciation. Nice to see.

George started hot with eight points in the opening four minutes—including two three-pointers—but quickly cooled off as the Thunder kept him to 10 points over the next 40 minutes. The 29-year-old, averaging a career-worst 3.5 turnovers, also committed a game-high five turnovers.

LA Clippers @LAClippers

Not one, not two, but three... in a row. @Yg_Trece and @TeamLou23 are dialed in from deep. https://t.co/rbUAloJuWz

Jovan Buha @jovanbuha

PG's playmaking in the pick-and-roll can be a bit chaotic. Once he commits to the pass it becomes easy to read his decision.

Despite a lukewarm performance in his first time back to OKC, George showed love to his former teammates after the final whistle.

George and the Clippers have to immediately put this upset behind them, though, with the Lakers looming on Christmas Day. The Clippers defeated the Lakers 112-102 in the season-opener, but the Lakers have looked the better squad in the time since.

It would have been nice to play better against his former team, but the Clippers need George to be at his best against the Lakers—even if it's just December:

Jovan Buha @jovanbuha

If they play the way they did tonight for 2 1/2 quarters, they‘ll be blown out on Wednesday (assuming LeBron and AD both play).

That said, the Clippers traded for George in order to accentuate Leonard. The true gauge of where this team is at entering 2020 will come against the Lakers with both of them on the floor.

     

What's Next?

The Clippers will face the Lakers on Christmas Day at Staples Center for the first time since the regular-season opener.

The Thunder will host the 11-19 Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday. The Grizzlies visited Oklahoma City on Wednesday, and the Thunder prevailed 126-122.