OKC Thunder: Loss punctuates need for Paul George to step up as a leader

Paul George, OKC Thunder
Paul George, OKC Thunder /

The OKC Thunder fell to 0-2 on season after giving up an ugly 92-108 loss to the Clippers and Paul George should take responsibility for that.

There are a lot of reasons why the OKC Thunder’s loss shouldn’t matter. Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson are still out. Dennis Schroder probably won’t always shoot so poorly. And most of all, it’s still Game 2 of the regular season. New teams and new playing philosophies are not supposed to all fall into place immediately.

But, tonight’s performance was downright ugly. And it was ugly in a way that undermines some of the promise surrounding this team.

All hail the bench

For the first time in what seems like forever, the OKC Thunder bench feels like a game-winner. For context, Paul George entered the break 2-for-15 from the field, but the team somehow only trailed by two points. In particular, Nerlens Noel deserves a special mention.

Look at Noel’s defensive awareness and elegance gliding across the court. As soon as he sees the ball swung, he turns and tracks the cutter. Noel will need to coordinate his shot-blocking instincts better with Jerami Grant, but this is hugely promising for the Thunder. Check out his box score too. Nine points, five boards and one steal in 14 minutes, including three huge offensive boards.

This year, the Thunder have Schroder, Grant and Noel coming off the bench. You might say that I’m a dreamer, but I think we might actually have three potential Sixth Man candidates this year.

Defense in shambles

But all that good bench work was undone by lackadaisical play. And even if he wasn’t at fault at this, I think Paul George could have done a better job of organizing the defense.

This is the Clippers’ second attack of the game. I’m not sure I can even call this a play – there’s no screen and roll action, just a single baseline penetration followed by swinging the ball around the perimeter. Danilo Gallinari looks like he is attacking the closeout as slowly as he can, and yet still gets an express pass to the Thunder basket.

As a vet, leader and All-Defense selection, Paul George should be in charge of calling out defensive switches. Even more so because he gets to play off the ball and watch, orchestrate and react. And yet, the team successively botches up the switching and gives away two easy points.

Mental weakness

And the problems don’t just stop on the defensive end. With 1:13 left, Paul George got tossed from the game. But mentally, it was clear he had checked out way earlier.

The starters checked back into the game with a healthy five-point lead by the bench; the game ended with the OKC Thunder being outside 37-15 during the final quarter. It started with the Clippers making some shots, and the Thunder missing some. Nothing out of the norm from a basketball game. But the Thunder got visibly frustrated, with Schroder and PG taking turns to jack up cringe-worthy, predictable shots from range.

There was no sign of PG trying to calm the troops down and run a play. Just before he got bounced, Steven Adams actually got called for a foul going for an offensive board. The writing should have been clear on the wall by now. As desperate as the team was for additional shots, committing silly fouls 90 feet from the basket is just an inexplicable mental mistake.

And yet, that was exactly what Paul George did. PG missed an ugly pull-up three, and somehow in his frustration, decided to challenge the 7-foot Boban for the rebound. It was an unnecessary foul that ended a rather painful night for Thunder fans.

Related Story. Player preview: Healthier Paul George pushes OKC into contention. light

Step up

More from Thunderous Intentions

The Thunder’s playoff loss last year should come down, at least in part, to Paul George’s poor shooting. But you could argue that was a six-month slump that’s not completely in his control. Fine. Today’s game didn’t even come down to that. It was a series of mental mistakes right from the beginning that cost, even if it didn’t cause, the Thunder a win.

More than anything else, the Thunder need strong leadership this season. The roster make up is good enough to push for a Conference Final berth. The challenge here is really about integrating newbies and assimilating the new team philosophy, and that comes down to leadership.

Today’s game was as much a chance for Dennis Schroder to get comfortable playmaking as Paul George with leading. Tonight was an ugly loss – one that doesn’t have to mean anything too, as we established at the beginning. But, for the Thunder to make the requisite jump this season, Paul George will have to do better than today.

Next. Season preview roundtable – Q2: Paul George Expectations. dark

They get that chance on Sunday, October 21 when they play the Sacramento Kings a game most presume Russell Westbrook will be back for. After this loss he can’t back soon enough.