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

Player grades: Lu Dort shines at Montreal in 128-125 preseason loss to Pistons

During Thursday’s shootaround, Lu Dort was surrounded by a sea of reporters popping off questions. The Montreal native was the star of the day as he prepared to play his first professional game in his hometown.

It only made sense Dort was fed the first shot of the night for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their 128-125 preseason loss to the Detroit Pistons.

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The Thunder realized how special a night this was for Dort and wanted to commemorate their defensive leader by making him the focal point of OKC’s offense.

“I (knew) I was going to come out here and try to put on a little show and hopefully play good in front of my people,” Dort said. “I felt like I did. I was really happy for the Thunder and the NBA to make that possible.”

With the return of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder had their first chance to see what their preferred starting lineup could look like. One preseason game in and the starters looked fantastic. All five finished with a positive plus-minus and four were at least plus-10.

“This is the first year in a little bit that we’ve had the majority of the group the next season,” Gilgeous-Alexander said about the roster continuity. “So that kinda propels us, like you said, into the next season.”

The Thunder offense continued to score with ease in their second preseason contest. After scoring 122 points in regulation against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder had 125 points tonight.

The 3-point ball was hitting for OKC; it shot 17-of-43 (39.5%) from outside. Free throws were also frequent for the Thunder as they went 32-of-39 (82.1%) from the charity stripe.

Alas, defense continues to be an issue in the preseason slate. After leading by as many as 21 points, the Pistons mounted a comeback against OKC with a 38-point fourth quarter.

The Pistons, who will play the Thunder in their preseason finale at Tulsa on Oct. 19, had six players score in double figures.

James Wiseman had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Jaden Ivey had 13 points on 6-of-17 shooting and five turnovers. Killion Hayes scored 16 points and had four assists. Rookie Ausar Thompson had eight points on 2-of-10 shooting, eight rebounds and two blocks. Cade Cunningham and Jalen Duren were ruled out for the game.

While it’s disappointing to see the Thunder lose control of a game they dominated for 75% of it, it’s important to add the caveat the fourth-quarter collapse occurred with the reserves of both teams.

Plus it’s preseason, so it’s hard to get too worked up over the final result of this game. Nonetheless, blowing a double-digit lead shouldn’t take away from the positive signs that were shown by the Thunder starters when they were on the court.

All in all, this was a successful first trip to Montreal. Dort had his moment in the spotlight and the Thunder’s starting lineup looked like it could be a lethal scoring machine.

“Big thank you to the city of Montreal and the basketball community here,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said. “Historic venue that we’re humbled to be playing in and in the game environment tonight, the crowd environment tonight was awesome.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Lu Dort: A-plus

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The story of this game since it was first announced was Dort playing in his Montreal, Québec, Canada. He recently revealed this was his first organized game in his hometown since high school.

Talking about this preseason contest, it was evident just how special a night it would be for Dort, who bought tickets for his family and friends. Each time he was asked about it, he talked with a warm smile and excitement in his voice. Prior to tipoff, he spoke with the crowd and thanked them for showing out.

In the opening possessions, the Thunder wanted to give Dort the chance to shine in front of his hometown by feeding him the ball and he delivered with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting in nine minutes of the first quarter.

“All four (of his teammates) were taking care of their boy,” Daigneault joked about Dort’s first quarter. “It was pretty cool to see. … I do think it speaks to the team orientation of this particular group.”

Overall, Dort finished with a game-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 5-of-9 shooting from 3 and four rebounds in 24 minutes. He also went 3-of-4 from the free-throw line.

Dort was superb in this game and played his role brilliantly. It was an excellent showing for the fifth-year starter.

Chet Holmgren: A-plus

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Two games into his preseason campaign, Chet Holmgren has arguably been the Thunder’s most impressive player. When OKC drafted him with the No. 2 pick in 2022, these two games are likely what they envisioned he’d do on most nights.

In 21 minutes, Holmgren had 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting, four rebounds and three blocks. He went 1-of-4 from 3 and a perfect 7-of-7 from the free-throw line.

The most noteworthy stretch for Holmgren was an early second-quarter span in which he scored 10 points in less than two minutes. He did it in an untraditional sense for a center. He went 3-of-3 from the free-throw line, hit a 3-pointer, finished inside and drove to the basket for an and-1.

On the defensive side, Holmgren continues to rack up blocks. He had three on Pistons’ layup attempts in 21 minutes — an incredible rate for the seven- footer.

Jalen Williams: A

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Posting up on the baseline, Williams managed to bully his way closer to the basket before unleashing a hook shot that went in.

The unorthodox play highlighted a dominating night for Williams following a sleepy performance in the preseason opener. In 22 minutes, he finished with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, two assists and three steals. He also went 4-of-6 from the free-throw line.

The beefier Williams continues to utilize his added weight by driving to the basket and finishing around the basket with a feathery feel. The Thunder’s high-scoring first half can be partially accredited to his continuing improvement.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: B

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

You know things are going well for the Thunder when Gilgeous-Alexander is being listed last for player grades.

After missing the preseason opener for rest, Gilgeous-Alexander made his 2023-24 preseason debut alongside his fellow countryman Dort. The All-NBA guard elected to play a more passive role and allow his teammates to get the spotlight in this one.

In 22 minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander had 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting, three assists and three steals. He went 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. It was business as usual for the top-10 player, who made light work of the Pistons and never looked like he was forced to work extra hard for any of his buckets.


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