Paul George had long been received warmly by Los Angeles Lakers fans during visits to Staples Center, but Wednesday told a different story. It was George’s first time playing against the Lakers since spurning them in free agency over the summer.
His decision to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder on a four-year contract not only stunned but angered much of the Lakers fanbase. He was greeted by a smatter of boos upon taking the court for pregame warmups, and they grew louder for lineup introductions and when George touched the ball.
“I kind of felt like he fed off that a little bit,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said after the Lakers’ 107-100 loss. “I mean, Paul George is a great player. He missed a lot of shots in the first half but came back really aggressive in the second half.”
George being off the mark early was compounded by picking up three fouls in the first quarter. His third drew raucous applause from fans, then boos as he checked out of the game. George returned in the second quarter, scoring 13 points in just over 8 minutes of action.
He added 11 more in the third quarter before wrapping up the night with nine in the fourth to give him a game-high 37 points. George explained he expected that type of vitriol from Lakers fans and expressed comfort in playing the role of villain.
While the 28-year-old found his rhythm on offense, George was equally impactful on defense, leading all players with 4 steals. The Lakers went through multiple droughts, including in the fourth quarter when the Thunder bench mounted a run.
“I felt like they got aggressive. They knocked us off of our spots, forced us to play a lot of one-on-one basketball,” Caldwell-Pope said. “That wasn’t what we were doing throughout the first half.”
Caldwell-Pope finished with a team-high 25 points, marking a second consecutive game he’s scored at least that many.
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