Oklahoma City • Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony laughed, fielding a question about forward Paul George’s self-given postseason nickname of “Playoff P.”
They sure liked his performance, though. George’s goal was “not being indecisive,” and no one would accuse him of that after Oklahoma City’s 116-108 defeat of the Jazz in Sunday’s Game 1 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
George went 8 of 11 from 3-point range in scoring 36 points, and reserve Alex Abrines hit 3 of 5 shots in his return from a concussion. They made a big difference in the game, considering the rest of the Thunder were 3 of 13.
Oklahoma City made 35.4 percent of its 3-point attempts in the regular season, ranking 24th in the NBA. The Thunder’s 48.2-percent accuracy Sunday, thanks mostly to George, wrecked a Jazz strategy that was focused on keeping Westbrook from getting to the rim and scoring or creating easy shots for others.
“We did a good job protecting the rim,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “That was the game plan, so we are going to go back and adjust.”
Abrines, an Olympic teammate of Jazz guard Ricky Rubio for Spain, had been injured last Monday at Miami and missed Wednesday’s regular-season finale vs. Memphis due to concussion protocol. He’s a capable 3-point shooter, having hit six of them against Memphis in December.
George went 8 of 14 from 3-point range against the Grizzlies last week, and he came back even hotter Sunday. George once hit nine 3-pointers vs. New Orleans in the 2012-13 season. Against the Jazz, he was an equal-opportunity shooter, hitting over at least four different defenders — Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
At one stage late in the first half, George teamed with Westbrook and Anthony to score 43 of Oklahoma City’s 50 points. He’s a 40-percent shooter from 3-point range, and he exploited the Jazz’s defense.
“Throughout the course of the game, I just took what they gave me,” George said. “Kind of what I talked about coming into this [series] is not being indecisive. They are going to give me perimeter shots or midrange shots.”
George’s approach is what his teammates wanted to see. “When he’s aggressive, it changes the game for us,” Westbrook said. “Our job is to make sure we find him and make it easy for him. As long as he stays aggressive, miss or make, we’re a better team.”
Only a hip injury late in the game kept George from scoring any more. He made 13 of 20 shots overall, going 5 of 9 on 2-point attempts.