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Out of sync so far in playoffs, Thunder’s Paul George looking to find rhythm

Thunder Trail Blazers Basketball

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, center, and center Steven Adams, left, and Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu dive for a loose ball during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

OKLAHOMA CITY — When Paul George has been rolling this season, so has Oklahoma City.

The Thunder’s All-Star forward has been off his game against Portland, and OKC has struggled against the Trail Blazers. Yes, George is averaging 26.5 points in their first-round playoff series, but he’s making just 27 percent of his 3-pointers — down from 39 percent during the regular season.

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Much has been made of his shoulder issues, which he has been dealing with the past few months. George even missed the regular-season finale against Milwaukee after not being able to lift his arm.

But George said Thursday his shoulder is not the issue, noting that he is pain-free.

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“The first game it was just out of rhythm, trying to find shots,” George said. “The second game, it was just knowing where shots were going to come from, knowing the space that I could get playing at the basket and taking advantage of where I can get to the rim. It’ll be a great mix Game 3.”

The Thunder hope it is a great mix. They’re down 0-2 as the series shifts to Oklahoma City Friday night.

In Game 1 against Portland, he went 8 for 24 from the field and made 4 of 15 3-pointers. In Game 2, George focused more on drives and shorter jumpers and was a more efficient 11 for 20 from the floor.

The Thunder desperately need George’s long-range production. He led the team and ranked fourth in the NBA with 3.8 makes per game in the regular season. Oklahoma City has made just 10 of 61 3-pointers in the series. George has made six of 22, meaning his teammates have missed 35 of their 39 tries.

George averaged a career-best 28.0 points per game this season — second in the league behind James Harden.

When George is on, he takes point guard Russell Westbrook out of do-everything mode. Westbrook shot 5 for 20 while trying to pick up for his team’s struggles in Game 2.

Despite their struggles, George said neither his approach nor the team’s approach will change.

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“We have to keep shooting,” he said. “We’re going to make shots. Keep shooting. We miss shots, so what. Keep shooting.”

Portland was concerned with the 3-point opportunities George had in Game 1 and adjusted. George responded by making 9 of 13 shots inside the 3-point line in Game 2. He only took seven threes though— down from his season average of 9.8 attempts.

“I thought by far, in the first game, he had a lot of really, really good open 3-point shots,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think in the second game, they tried to take a lot of those away. I think he played down low a little bit more, played at the rim. When he could get into some space where he could kind of use his dribbling to create some gaps for himself, he drove or he stepped back and shot it from mid-range.”

George said the shoulder problems have not affected him defensively. The league leader in steals during the regular season often matches up with an opponent’s best wing player, but he hasn’t been matched up with Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum much in the series. He said that’s by design because he’s supporting Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson by clogging the lane.

Still, the Thunder’s biggest problems in the series have been on offense. George said getting back to Oklahoma City could help — but just being in OKC isn’t enough.

“We’ll get back on stride being at home,” he said. “I’m not going to say that just to say that just because we’re going to be at home, it’s going to be all fine and dandy. We’ve got to come out and play, execute, do the things that we do to win this game.”

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