OKLAHOMA CITY – Paul George stepped back to the delight of more than 18,000 spectators at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. His triple in the quick break pressed the Thunder's lead over the Warriors back to 20, but it was his defensive play before he generated the tremor.
Kevin Durant threw himself towards the end line to receive an inside pass, but George was with him step by step, forcing him to miss an uncomfortable reverse shot that ignited the fast counterattack of Thunder again.
"I think he would say he's a guy who is more committed to the defense for himself," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "The offense, he'll find shots, but he really takes a lot of pride on the defensive."
"What I admire about Paul is that he plays both ends. "
George came to Oklahoma City with a reputation as one of the best defenders in the NBA, and has lived up to defensive level play through 17 games.
As of Thursday, George is the league leader in steals with 45. The next closest player is Russell Westbrook with 35. But the steals do not paint the whole picture when it comes to defensive impact.
If you select the "Hustle" stats from the NBA, George leads each statistically significant category for a perimeter defender George leads the NBA in detours for 36 minutes (5.0), total deflections (87), lost balls recovered for 36 minutes (2.2) and total lost balls recovered (38).
That's why the Thunder, NBA No. 3 Defense in points allowed for every 100 possessions (98.6), is turning opponents into 18.8 percent of possessions. the NBA in points per game and n Turnovers (21.6). George had four steals against the Warriors, three of which led to eight points.
In three games last season, Durant roasted the Thunder, averaging 37.7 points with a shooting percentage of 65.6 percent. Donovan said on Wednesday it was a collective effort against Durant, not just against George, due to the Golden State movement.
But George kept Durant in a respectable 2-for-5, while Durant threw 6-for-12 against none. contest or other defenders of Thunder. His quick reaction on Durant on the reverse did not produce a defensive statistic, but George has shown for a long time that his presence is more than numbers.
As a 6-foot-7-foot senior at Pete Knight High School in Palmdale, California, head coach Tom Hegre deployed George's nearly 7-foot wingspan on top of the press defense .
"That was my job, divert, create robberies and create turnovers from that moment, detect," George said about his high school days. "Therefore, I've always had that from an early age playing pass lines and putting a hand on the ball."
Or simply tearing the ball from the defenders in one-on-one clashes, like his last-minute steal from Manu Ginobili with the Thunder behind 100-97 in San Antonio last week.
George's ability can put him in trouble, like when he fouled in 19 minutes. against Indiana in a combination of tactile calls and aggression. But against Ginobili, George recognized that he could easily stand in front of him, cut off the left dribble and pull him back behind him.
As soon as Ginobili did, George rushed at him. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was livid, not with Ginobili, but with setter Patty Mills who did not come back for the ball. Ginobili, 40, was unfairly left alone to break the pressure of the court against a three-time defender of the NBA team.
That night, Steve Cleveland was watching from his home in Fresno, California. Cleveland coached George two seasons at Fresno State, watching him grow two inches to 6 feet and become an NBA lottery pick at 20.
"Those instincts," Cleveland said of George's theft in Ginobili. "He has a great expectation."
"I was not afraid to exaggerate too much and get a detour. He had the ability to play excessively and recover laterally. "
George not only causes turnovers with his hands and length, but lateral quickness and timely rotations against Minnesota on October 22, the rugged forward Taj Gibson caught a low pass in the paint and he went around the corner but lost the ball because he was blocked by a rotation by George.
George was not a physical player when he arrived at the state of Fresno measuring 6-7, 190 pounds. Freshman, he learned what Cleveland called "hard lessons" by turning primarily to play in zone 2-3 in high school for man-to-man defense, but what Cleveland saw was a commitment to defense combined with a already scarce athletic package.
"He was focused on changing his body and becoming the best defender he could be," Cleveland said.
Now, in the year 8 of his career in the NBA, Ge Orge can stalk a heads up on the half court or slide with synchrony as a defender of help.
"Playing in the area, you have to move," said George. "The ball is swinging, you have to move from one side to the other, so you learn playing the movement from the defensive end early, and that's useful because, once again, the zone is based on helping each other, and then there's Therefore, everything comes together. "
It all came together on Wednesday night in the biggest win of the season in the Thunder, with George in the middle.
"It really saves many plays many times". ways, "said Donovan." There were guys in the back, and only he sitting in those holes, covering gaps in the back with his length and his ability to deflect passes, stop passes or steal passes was a great catalyst for us tonight for us defensively. "