Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads the NBA’s hottest young team on both ends of the court.
The 25-year-old from Hamilton has the Oklahoma City Thunder on a five-game winning streak and with a 10-4 record, good for third place in the Western Conference behind defending champion Denver (10-4) and Minnesota (10-4). 10-3). ).
His season-best 40-point performance in a 130-123 overtime comeback victory over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday showed just a little bit of everything in his game.
Up 126-123 with 1:02 left in overtime, Gilgeous-Alexander blocked a three-point attempt by Warriors superstar guard Stephen Curry. After teammate and fellow Canadian Lu Dort fed Gilgeous-Alexander on the fast break, he made a contested layup to seal it.
“When one of your best offensive players is one of your best defensive players, it’s huge,” Thunder rookie center Chet Holmgren said after Saturday’s game. “He really lights us up on both sides with the energy of him, and especially in that overtime period, he had a great stop that ended up generating two points and really broke the game.
“It’s huge to have Shai out there, doing what he does, and we really feed off of that.”
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 32 points in the second half, including 10 in overtime where the Thunder outscored the Warriors 13-6. Oklahoma City had come back from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter with a 22-6 run, led by Gilgeous-Alexander’s 15 points in the frame.
“That’s Shai. It’s one-on-one at the top of the key, it’s really tough and they have shooters everywhere,” Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said Saturday. “You try to throw some different things at him, but he made some tough shots.”
Gilgeous-Alexander also showed his team-first attitude late in Saturday’s game.
He was the blocker on the play that tied the game in regulation and was tipped to Holmgren, who hit a three-pointer to send it into overtime. It was the kind of moment that led Oklahoma City head coach Mark Daigneault to call Gilgeous-Alexander a “luxury.”
“Shai was first team All-NBA last year, he’s a star, but he has the humility and the perspective to come in and run the play and try to give his teammate a chance and he did that,” Daigneault said.
“I can’t overstate what a luxury it is to have a guy who has, like I said, the humility and the perspective that you can draw a play for a rookie in that situation and he just goes out and executes it.”
For Gilgeous-Alexander, it’s simply about creating a winner.
“That’s how you become a winning basketball team,” he said. “I know, all the guys on the team know it. It’s something we focus on every day. Every day we come to the movies and that’s one of the boxes we try to check: do we play with our identity and within the team ?offensively and defensively?
“And the days we do it are an advantage for us, the days we don’t, we learn from them and try to improve for the next game.”
Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 29.6 points (good for sixth in the NBA a year after finishing fourth), 6.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this season.
Wiggins breaks through
Andrew Wiggins has had a rocky start to the 2023-24 season.
The 10-year veteran from Thornhill, Ont., has only averaged 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds per game on 42.9 percent shooting from the field and 22.2 percent from three-point range, the worst of his career. His field goal percentage is the second-worst of his career and the lowest since 2018-19.
However, he managed to put together his best performance of the season against the Thunder on Saturday, scoring 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting and going 5-of-8 from long range.
Wiggins hit four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and the last one gave the Warriors a 117-114 lead with 1.6 seconds left in regulation. Wiggins had only made five 3-pointers this season before Saturday’s game.
“The ball went into the rim,” Kerr said. “You know, he played very well, made shots, but he was also very good defensively.
“I thought Wiggs was fantastic and it was great to see him excel after a slow start to the season.”