By CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — With each dynamic performance from Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder fans get a little more nervous.
George scored 33 points to help the Thunder beat the Memphis Grizzlies 110-92 on Sunday night without fellow stars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.
George will be a free agent after this season, so when the Thunder played the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night — a team George’s camp has expressed interest in — Lakers fans chanted, ‘We want Paul!’
Thunder fans chanted the same several times Sunday, and he gave them more reasons to feel that way. He made 10 of 24 shots as Westbrook was sidelined with a sprained left ankle and Anthony sat out with a sprained right ankle.
George enjoyed his trips to the free throw line most, when much of the chanting occurred. He made 8 of 11 free throws.
“Yeah, I loved it,” George said. “I loved every bit. Every second. It was why I was trying to get to the line, honestly. Trying to get more of that.”
George said he tried to do too much against the Lakers last week with Westbrook and Anthony out — he had three assists and six turnovers in the blowout loss. Against the Grizzlies, he had eight assists and two turnovers while playing starting at his usual small forward spot and playing some point guard with the second unit.
“Tonight, I thought I got my rhythm and stayed in my rhythm and played my game, and again, I thought we all — second game with us being together — I thought there was a little more chemistry,” he said.
Alex Abrines scored 16 points and Raymond Felton, Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson each added 14 for the Thunder. They had lost five of six and were falling in the Western Conference standings.
The Thunder made 16 of 37 3-pointers. Memphis interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said his team’s defensive failures started with struggling to handle Thunder center Steven Adams on the pick and roll. Adams scored just nine points, but the 7-footer’s presence created problems.
“We were late getting to him, and when you’re late getting to him, now the guys who are at the kick-out spots — they are open, so we were stuck in the middle,” Bickerstaff said. “Obviously, they have guys who are capable shooters but we just didn’t do a good enough job off the ball defensively to help one another.”
Marc Gasol scored 18 points, and JaMychal Green added 14 for the Grizzlies. They have lost six in a row.
The Thunder had one of their most productive offensive halves of the season to lead 74-54 at the break. George scored 22 points and Abrines added 16 as Oklahoma City shot 59 percent from the floor and made 12 of 17 3-pointers in the first half.
The Thunder bolted out of the gate with an 8-0 run to start the second half that included 3-pointers by George and Felton. Oklahoma City pushed its lead to 28 in the third quarter and took a 95-80 advantage into the fourth quarter. A lob from Felton for a dunk by rookie Terrance Ferguson pushed Oklahoma City’s edge to 102-80.
Grizzlies: Missed all five of their 3-point shots in the first quarter and made just 6 for 28 on the night. … G Mario Chalmers was issued a technical in the first quarter. … G Andrew Harrison picked up his third foul with 8:43 left in the second quarter. … F Dillon Brooks was called for a Flagrant 1 for elbowing Thunder G Josh Huestis in the second quarter.
Thunder: Had just three turnovers in the first half and 10 overall. … Scored 74 points in the first half, but just four on fast breaks. … Abrines started in place of Huestis, who had started the previous two games. Oklahoma City is still trying to figure out who will fill the void left by G Andre Roberson, who recently had season-ending left patellar tendon surgery.
George is averaging 30.7 points per game in February while shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from 3-point range.
Patterson’s 14 points were a season high in his second start of the season for the Thunder. He was a possible starter before the Thunder traded for Anthony right before the preseason.
Patterson on George playing some point guard: “I think just to have somebody that has the ability to do what he does makes it a lot easier on everybody else.”
Grizzlies: Host the Thunder on Wednesday night.
Thunder: Host Cleveland on Tuesday night.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP
More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
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