OKLAHOMA CITY — On Saturday, Thunder forward Paul George told reporters about an alter-ego he calls “Playoff P.” On Sunday, he gave the media, his teammates and the Utah Jazz a formal introduction.
He scored 36 points to help Oklahoma City defeat Utah 116-108 in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series Sunday night.
“That’s his new name?” seemingly perplexed teammate Carmelo Anthony asked with a smile.
George lived up to it. He set an Oklahoma City playoff record with eight 3-pointers, blowing past the previous mark of five. He made eight of 11 shots from long range, and 13 of 20 shots overall.
It was his first playoff game with the Thunder since being acquired in a trade with the Indiana in the offseason. He had averaged more than 27 points per game in the playoffs for the Pacers the past two years.
“I’m going to bring it to that level every night,” George said. “Obviously, I was hot tonight, but that’s the level I’m going to bring every night.”
Russell Westbrook had 29 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists and Anthony added 15 points for the Thunder, who will host Game 2 on Wednesday.
Westbrook, who seemingly was Oklahoma City’s only scoring option for much of last season, appreciated the help.
“When he’s aggressive, man, it changes the game for us,” Westbrook said. “You saw that tonight. He had it going. Our job is to make sure we find him, make it easy for him. As long as he stays aggressive, we’ll be a better team.”
Many of George’s makes were contested. His success made it difficult for the Jazz to cover other players.
“He made a couple and we changed up what we were doing, and he went to something else,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He went to pick-and-roll and he made a couple more, and then we tried to take him and he passed the ball.”
Utah doesn’t expect George to keep making those tough shots.
“If those shots start to affect you, then the whole game plan goes away,” said rookie Donovan Mitchell, who led the Jazz with 27 points and 10 rebounds. “So we just kept sticking with it, and hopefully, he doesn’t go 8 for 11 the rest of the series. But we played great defense, and we are proud of that.”
Mitchell left the game in the second half with left foot soreness. He returned, but played sporadically.
“I feel fine,” he said. “Think I just stubbed my toe. Nothing major.”
Rudy Gobert scored 14 points, and Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder each added 13 for the Jazz.
The Thunder recovered from a 16-4 deficit to tie it at 25 at the end of the first quarter. Oklahoma City led 54-48 at halftime behind 20 points from George and 14 from Westbrook.
George hit his seventh 3-pointer to push Oklahoma City’s lead to 79-66. He hit a deep 2-pointer to close the quarter and give the Thunder an 81-72 lead.
Alex Abrines hit two 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to give Oklahoma City a 92-80 lead and force Utah to call timeout. The Thunder held off a surge in the final minute.
Jazz: Mitchell made his first four shots, but just one of six the rest of the first half. ... Made just eight of 22 shots in the second quarter. ... Dante Exum and Alec Burks each scored 10 points.
Thunder: G Corey Brewer, who was questionable with a right knee sprain, started. ... Anthony scored his 1,700th playoff point. ... Oklahoma City made its first 17 free throws and didn’t miss one until the final minute.
Mitchell on why he was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter: “I was just limping, so the trainers saw me limping and they thought I needed to come out, but I was just being a baby, so I’m good.”
George’s outburst is significant because in Oklahoma City’s five-game playoff series with Houston last season, no Thunder player other than Westbrook scored more than 20 points in a game. Westbrook averaged 37.4 points in the series, but no other Thunder player averaged more than 11.6.
Game 2 will be Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.