The propaganda surrounding the name Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been vast this 2022-23 NBA season, but if you’ve watched a mere handful of Thunder games, you’d understand why.
In the first of OKC and Portland’s double-header, Oklahoma City defeated the always hard-to-beat Portland Trail Blazers 123-121 thanks to SGA’s buzzer-beater – his second of the season. In Game 2, we watched some of the same things happen. OKC trailed by a decent margin in the first half, then regrouped in the third quarter, outscoring Portland 29-24, just enough to go into the fourth quarter tied at 78, then pulled it out in the fourth, defeating the Blazers 101-98.
SGA is averaging 31.2 points per game (third in the NBA), 4.7 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. SGA also averages 1.0 blocks per game, second among guards in the league and seventh in steals.
On Monday night, SGA didn’t play his best game. He shot 2-of-10 from the field and tallied only 11 points in the first half. The third quarter came along, and you could see him slowly finding his shot, scoring 12 in the third and 12 in the fourth, totaling 35 points through the entire game.
“I trusted my work and did what I was comfortable doing,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
There’s a reason the opportunity was there for SGA to win the game for the Thunder, despite having a below-average performance; OKC’s role players all stepped up while SGA struggled. In Game 1 (Monday night), Kenrich Williams, Isaiah Joe, Mike Muscala, Jalen Williams, and Aaron Wiggins stepped up, combining for 50 points, which kept OKC in contention to win. During Game 2 (Wednesday night), SGA didn’t have the gaudy numbers he had in Game 1, but there was no need to fret; OKC’s “next man up” reputation prevailed again. This time J Dub was OKC’s hero late in the game, flushing home a slashing dunk on a drive to the basket off the right wing with 1:31 left to play, putting OKC up 99-98.
We’ve talked about J Dub enough, so we’ll spare you the over-reporting, but from an optimistic lens, Game 1 and Game 2 were the same two games that OKC would have lost last season due to inexperience. Now, we’re seeing veteran plays made and fewer mistakes from SGA, Giddey, and Lu Dort down the stretch.
Kenrich Williams said the team has its eyes set on making the playoffs this year, and although at 14-18 and slotted in the 12th spot in the Western Conference, they’re only 2.5 games out of the play-in tournament where their team goal has the chance to come true.
If OKC continues their balance attack, and if SGA continues to play at an MVP level, this could be an obtainable goal.