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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Clemente Almanza

Player grades: A’s across the board for the Thunder in 145-135 win over Knicks

Who said 11 a.m. CT tips on NFL Sundays can’t be fun?

Following their best offensive performance in a blowout win against the Toronto Raptors, the Oklahoma City Thunder one-upped themselves with one of the best offensive outings in franchise history on arguably the biggest stage in the league against the New York Knicks in a 145-135 win.

The 145 points are the most points scored by the Thunder in a game in nearly five years — a Jan. 2018 148-124 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Two separate 43-point quarters certainly helped reach that mark. Overall, the Thunder shot 55-of-88 (62.5 percent) from the field and went 17-of-31 (54.8 percent) from three on 31 team assists.

Over their last eight quarters, the Thunder are suddenly playing like an offensive juggernaut after scoring like one of the worst offensive teams in the league beforehand.

Backcourt duo Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey led the way. With the lights at their brightest, both players had arguably their best games both as individuals and as a backcourt duo.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 37 points in 36 minutes while Giddey collected his first triple-double of the season with 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

The other three Thunder starters also finished in double-digits. Lu Dort scored 24 points on 11 shots, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored 17 points on nine shots and Aleksej Pokusevski scored 12 points.

The vibes right now around this Thunder squad are immaculate. Receiving national attention due to playing in Madison Square Garden and being the only NBA game on is going to put the otherwise nationally-irrelevant Thunder into the national discussion.

Let’s take a look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-plus

Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

I mean, cmon now. This is just getting ridiculous.

Gilgeous-Alexander did it once again on the biggest stage with 37 points on 13-of-22 shooting and went 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. Gilgeous-Alexander even blew off the dust of his old stepback three and went 2-of-3 from three.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 21 of his 37 points in the third quarter and helped led the Thunder to their second consecutive 43-point quarter.

At this point, I’m running out of ways to describe just how great Gilgeous-Alexander has played. Hopefully with a performance like this against the Knicks, the national media and pundits will catch up with the conventional wisdom that Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the best players in the world right now.

In 12 games this season, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 31.1 points on 54.3 percent shooting, 5.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds. Just unreal numbers by the 24-year-old who’s taken the next step in superstardom.

Josh Giddey: A-plus

Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Something tells me Josh Giddey likes to play in MSG.

After putting up a 29-point triple-double in New York earlier this year in February, he followed it up with 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to collect his first triple-double of the season.

Josh Giddey joined NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain as the only other player in league history to record two triple-doubles in their first two games at Madison Square Garden.

“Anytime you can be mentioned with names of greats like that, it’s special,” said Giddey.

After struggling earlier in the season with his shot due to missing time with an ankle sprain, Giddey has looked like the guy who won Rookie of the Month every month he was healthy in last season.

“It’s great playing with (Gilgeous-Alexander),” said Giddey following the win. “I think our chemistry is going to continue to grow and hopefully we can be a hell of a backcourt for a long time.”

Lu Dort: A-plus

Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

With all of the attention going to Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey, it’s easy to overlook Dort’s efficient scoring.

Dort finished with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting and went 2-of-5 from three. Much like with Giddey, after initially struggling to start the season, Dort has bounced back over his last couple of games.

While it was not an exclusive one-on-one matchup the entire game, Dort did a great job at limiting the Knicks backcourt of RJ Barrett and Jalen Brunson — especially after their performances in their last game against the Detroit Pistons.

Barrett, who scored 30 points his last game, was held to four points on 2-of-10 shooting. Brunson, who scored 26 points, was held to 17 points.

It’s not all credited to Dort, but he’s the face of the Thunder defense and deserves a lot of the credit for limiting the Knicks backcourt.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl: A-plus

Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had quietly put together a really solid season.

In 12 games, Robinson-Earl is averaging 8.3 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 43.6 percent from three.

Against the Knicks, Robinson-Earl scored 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and shot 3-of-4 from three. The 17 points is two shy of a new career-high.

The two starting frontcourt spots have been a game-by-game basis for Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault, but it’s hard to see why Robinson-Earl shouldn’t get the bulk of the starts in most games with performances like these.

Aleksej Pokusevski: A

Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The other frontcourt Thunder starter was Aleksej Pokusevski, who finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 18 minutes.

Despite playing less than 20 minutes, Pokusevski — who sported tape around the shoulder that forced him to miss games for shoulder bursitis — continues to turn in solid and more consistent performances.

Pokusevski and Robinson-Earl were replaced by Aaron Wiggins and Mike Muscala to start the second half, which is an unorthodox technique Daigneault had frequently used this season.

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