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Pressure is on Billy Donovan, Russell Westbrook and Paul George

Paul George’s corner 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left Tuesday night not only beat the Rockets. That game-winning shot changed the playoff path for the entire Western Conference.

The Warriors and Rockets on one side of the bracket.

The Thunder, TrailBlazers, Nuggets and Spurs on the other side of the bracket.

The Thunder went from a likely date with Golden State in the first round to a series with wounded Portland. From Doomsday to Doable.

Of course, PG’s game-winner didn’t cast in stone the West playoff pairings. A Thunder victory in Milwaukee on Wednesday night and wins by Portland and Denver were necessary, too. The Thunder won, and the Blazers and Nuggets staged remarkable comebacks to do their part.

But to whom much is given, much is required. The pressure is on the Thunder in the series that starts Sunday on the Oregon Trail.

An assignment to the Bay Area would have been certain curtains for OKC. We already would be lamenting a lost season, an inexplicable slide to the eighth seed, and looking ahead to 2019-20 and how the Thunder could reboot into a contender.

Instead, the Thunder opens against a foe that lost all four games to OKC this season, is playing without talented center Jusuf Nurkic and has a dubious playoff history, with just two series wins since 2000.

By that comparison, OKC’s two straight one-and-dones in the playoffs seem downright bearable.

From Billy Donovan to Russell Westbrook to George, the pressure is on. Donovan and Westbrook haven’t advanced in the playoffs since Kevin Durant fled for the Evil Empire. The cavalry, George, didn’t lift the Thunder past Utah in this round a year ago.

Some NBA lifers say the playoffs come down to three things: matchups, coaching adjustments, star players producing (or not).

The matchups fall the Thunder’s way, with Nurkic’s injury. That leaves the coaching and the stars.

Donovan had a heck of a maiden postseason in 2016, outdueling Gregg Popovich and standing toe-to-toe with Steve Kerr, both of which led historically great teams. And Donovan’s 2017 Thunder team played very well against Houston in the playoffs, despite being outmanned. But Utah’s Quin Snyder outfoxed Donovan last season, turning Carmelo Anthony into a Thunder liability.

Donovan needs to push the right buttons against Portland’s Terry Stotts. But this isn’t all on Donovan. Westbrook and George must produce, too.

Westbrook has had a unique season. Historically horrendous shooting (29 percent from 3-point range; 65.6 percent on foul shots) but sensational play in other ways. A plus — Westbrook defensive lapses tend to disappear in the playoffs.

The chief concern is his mental game with Portland superstar Damian Lillard. Westbrook seems to feel about Lillard the way Alexander Hamilton felt about Aaron Burr.

That won’t fly in a playoff series. Heck, last season, Westbrook lost his head trying to duel Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio, a man of peace if ever there was one.

Meanwhile, the Thunder needs George to defend like a demon, which he almost always does, and shoot well, which he mostly hasn’t since the All-Star break.

George’s shoulder clearly is hurting. No one outside the Oklahoma state line cares, just as sympathy is slim for Nurkic’s absence. The Thunder will be hard-pressed to win without quality performances from George.

Which should be no problem. George, in both Indiana and last season with the Thunder, has been good in the playoffs – 40.2 percent 3-point shooting in his last 36 postseason games.

The Thunder found the right side of the bracket. Now it’s up to Donovan, Westbrook and George to make it pay off.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

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THUNDER-BLAZERS PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 1 — Sunday, at Portland, 2:30, ABCGame 2 — Tuesday, at Portland, 9:30, TNTGame 3— Friday, at OKC, 8:30, ESPNGame 4 — Sunday, April 21, at OKC, 8:30, TNTGame 5 — Tuesday, April 23, at Portland, TBAGame 6 — Thursday, April 25, at OKC, TBAGame 7 — Saturday, April 27, at Portland, TBA, TNT

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma City's Paul George, left, and Russell Westbrook will need to help keep the Thunder's momentum going forward during a best-of-7, first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Game 1 is 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Portland. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma City's Paul George, left, and Russell Westbrook will need to help keep the Thunder's momentum going forward during a best-of-7, first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Game 1 is 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Portland. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-55c73ccb20231121b7349a8f48ac5281.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Paul George, left, and Russell Westbrook will need to help keep the Thunder's momentum going forward during a best-of-7, first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Game 1 is 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Portland. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City's Paul George, left, and Russell Westbrook will need to help keep the Thunder's momentum going forward during a best-of-7, first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Game 1 is 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Portland. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City's Paul George, left, and Russell Westbrook will need to help keep the Thunder's momentum going forward during a best-of-7, first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Game 1 is 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Portland. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3c3b08fbde3453a53cbb35cbf2bb9186.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook), right, and Paul George celebrate near Steven Adams (12) after Westbrook made a basket on an assist from George in the final minute of the fourth quarter during a February victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook), right, and Paul George celebrate near Steven Adams (12) after Westbrook made a basket on an assist from George in the final minute of the fourth quarter during a February victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook), right, and Paul George celebrate near Steven Adams (12) after Westbrook made a basket on an assist from George in the final minute of the fourth quarter during a February victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-468d253d71d71ea169058d9a34003d5f.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Raymond Felton, right, drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Tim Frazier during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Raymond Felton, right, drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Tim Frazier during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Raymond Felton, right, drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Tim Frazier during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-222042d903b8fc0901eea8b5ddddfb0a.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Abdel Nader shoots against Milwaukee Bucks' D.J. Wilson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Abdel Nader shoots against Milwaukee Bucks' D.J. Wilson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Abdel Nader shoots against Milwaukee Bucks' D.J. Wilson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e95c3c3ee4c8dfc709714e45557e83a8.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, is fouled by Milwaukee Bucks' Tim Frazier during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, is fouled by Milwaukee Bucks' Tim Frazier during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, is fouled by Milwaukee Bucks' Tim Frazier during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0e96fb1c37846b2e90ff73673b6bf541.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Sterling Brown during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Sterling Brown during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Sterling Brown during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-4b287319b713503c6da4abe747c80b15.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Jerami Grant (9) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Bonzie Colson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Jerami Grant (9) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Bonzie Colson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Jerami Grant (9) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Bonzie Colson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-08717eb4a00b4e3fef838eda5e0edfdf.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Dennis Schroder shoots against Milwaukee Bucks' Bonzie Colson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Dennis Schroder shoots against Milwaukee Bucks' Bonzie Colson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Dennis Schroder shoots against Milwaukee Bucks' Bonzie Colson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a0f2d45933b6b786587b838fce495a10.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Dennis Schroder is fouled on a drive to the basket by Milwaukee Bucks' D.J. Wilson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Dennis Schroder is fouled on a drive to the basket by Milwaukee Bucks' D.J. Wilson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Dennis Schroder is fouled on a drive to the basket by Milwaukee Bucks' D.J. Wilson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-02ff32901a7c13f27a9c94137673d8bd.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Jerami Grant dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Jerami Grant dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Jerami Grant dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-cf6c638166ec128ae872da21894573a7.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson, left, collides with Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson, left, collides with Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson, left, collides with Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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