– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
PHILADELPHIA — The Oklahoma City Thunder ended up getting two possessions on offense in the 14.9 seconds they had to play without the disqualified Russell Westbrook. Their first possession could not have gone any worse, literally throwing away a chance they had to win the game.
Oklahoma City, however, made the absolute most of their second chance in atoning for its near-catastrophic error.
Paul George hit a three-pointer as part of his four-point play with 5.1 seconds remaining in lifting the Thunder to a 117-115 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon, snapping a two-game losing streak.
Since his arrival in Oklahoma City at the beginning of last season, George has been the go-to player for the Thunder in late-game situations, finding himself taking game-winning shots at the top of the key off of the same play in which, normally, Thunder center Steven Adams sets a down screen play. OKC ran it again, even though the Sixers and almost everyone in the arena knew the ball would go to George, especially with Westbrook fouled out.
George made the game-winning play anyway.
“I’m just trying to free myself. I’ve got the best screener cleaning my guy for me to get a free catch up top,” said George, who ended the game with 31 points, six rebounds and five assists. “We ran it so many times this year. You know, we’ve ran it to a T. I made it, I missed it, but you know, that’s a big time play for us.”
OKC was forced to pull the game out of the fire while down after a couple of mistakes saw it go down late in the contest. Westbrook committed his sixth foul while attempting to block Joel Embiid’s three-point attempt with 14.9 seconds left and the Thunder holding a 113-110 lead. Embiid subsequently made all three free throws to tie the game and, after the third free throw, the Sixers decided to put on a full-court press, forcing Westbrook’s replacement, Dennis Schröder, into turning the ball over as Jimmy Butler soared in to intercept a looping pass intended for Adams at mid-court.
Butler attacked the basket after the steal, laying the ball in with 6.9 seconds remaining to give Philadelphia a 115-113 lead.
“Our guys kept playing. They kept playing through it,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “We found a way to regroup after Butler scored and transition on that layup and found a way to make a play and get up by two.”