Going into Wednesday’s game, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George said he didn’t know what kind of reaction he would get when he visited Staples Center to take on the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time since spurning the team in free agency. Luckily for him, he didn’t have to wait too long to find out.
During pregame introductions, the home crowd gave George a warm welcome back hom to Southern California — and by that I mean they showered him with thunderous boos.
Staples Center just booed Paul George as loud as I've heard them boo anyone. pic.twitter.com/mhYr0UDoNJ— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) January 3, 2019
The boos didn’t stop once the game started either. Every time George touched the ball during the game, the fans serenaded him with boos.
It's every time he touches the ball, but it's gotten a little quieter already and the first quarter isn't even over yet. He's not going to be a Dwight-level villain. pic.twitter.com/RfwmhrNPNU— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) January 3, 2019
Unfortunately, those boos didn’t doo anything to throw of George’s game. In fact, they might have even fueled him to have the night he did.
“I heard what the crowd was doing,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope told reporters following the game. “I kinda feel like he fed off that a little bit.”
The numbers George put up certainly support that claim. In 34 minutes against the Lakers, George scored 37 points on 57.1 percent shooting from the field despite shooting just 2-11 from behind the arc. He also contributed four rebounds and four steals.
George said he heard the boos, but he wasn’t surprised by them, nor was he at all affected:
Paul George on the boos: "The booing wasn't going to throw me off my game. I've been playing basketball for a really long time and a little booing and a little noise is not going to make me forget how to play basketball."— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 3, 2019
Paul George on how treatment from Lakers fans was different than previous years: "I mean, I knew coming into it. There was no shock or surprise. I was prepared for it. It is what it is. I'm the bad guy, and that's fine."— Matthew Moreno (@MMoreno1015) January 3, 2019
Maybe the boos didn’t affect George because Russell Westbrook thought they were for him. Westbrook shot a season-low 15 percent from the field on Wednesday despite taking 20 shots. He was arguably the Lakers’ best player.
In all seriousness, George reminded Lakers fans why he was at the top of their free agent wishlist this summer. Hopefully that trend doesn’t continue each time he visits Staples Center this season. If it does, at least the Lakers will likely have LeBron James back by the next time they see each other.