ASSOCIATED PRESS — After going through a Monday practice session, Paul George pronounced himself in position — mentally and physically — to take a step forward in Game 2 of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers.
That was good news to the visiting Thunder, who need their All-Star small forward to lead the way to victory after a 104-99 loss to the Trail Blazers in the series opener.
George — playing with a sore right shoulder that had kept him out of action in the regular-season finale against Milwaukee — collected 26 points and 10 rebounds but made only 8 of 24 shots from the field, including 4 of 15 from 3-point range in Game 1.
“Shoulder’s good,” George said after Monday’s practice. “I’m pain-free. It’s well enough now to throw out any injury problems (as an excuse). It didn’t have an effect on my game. I just hadn’t shot or picked up a ball for four days. It was about rhythm.
“I had a good day out there today. I feel good about it.”
George wasn’t the only OKC player to have shooting problems in the opener. The Thunder shot 39.8 percent as a team and were only 5 for 33 from the 3-point line.
“We didn’t make shots,” George said. “It cost us. I take a lot of that (responsibility) — good looks I had and missed. That’s what today’s practice was for, to get into better rhythm, a better flow.”
George said he was encouraged that the Thunder rallied from a 19-point second-quarter deficit to trail by only one point inside the final three minutes.
“We fought our way back,” he said. “We’re a good team. We’re confident. We’re in a great place. We have to come out (Tuesday) night and take it to (the Blazers), be the aggressors.
“The (Blazers) did what they were supposed to do — win on their home floor. A series is about adjustments. We’ll adjust. We’ll be ready for (Tuesday’s) game.”
The Blazers feel they have much improvement to make over the way they performed in the opener, too. They shot only 41.9 percent from the field and were 4 for 15 from 3-point range over the final three quarters. They committed 19 turnovers and allowed the Thunder 18 offensive rebounds.
“There is a lot of stuff we could have done better, things (the Thunder) could have taken advantage of, but didn’t,” said Portland point guard Damian Lillard, who scored a game-high 30 points but also had six turnovers. “Like allowing Paul George to get some open looks at threes that he didn’t make. We let them get into transition, gave them too many second-chance opportunities, lost too many guys on defense. It didn’t cost us the game, but we have to be better in the second game.”
Said reserve center Zach Collins: “It’s a good feeling, being up 1-0 in the series but also knowing how much better we can play.”
The Blazers ended a 10-game playoff losing streak with the victory in Game 1.
“We’ve just won one game,” Lillard said. “It feels good to get back on the winning side, but it’s more about how we can sustain it.
“A series can change quickly. We can’t forget that. That bad taste of failure in the postseason doesn’t go away with one win. It has humbled us, but we’re going to come out with that business attitude again in Game 2.”