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

Player grades: SGA returns as Thunder snap losing streak with 126-117 win over Hawks

OKLAHOMA CITY — Quickly recovering from a crossover, Lu Dort blocked Trae Young’s 3-point attempt and jumpstarted a fastbreak that ended in a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander lob pass to Jalen Williams.

The two-play sequence electrified the Paycom Center crowd in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 126-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks. After a two-game losing skid, OKC collects a win in the penultimate contest of its six-game homestand.

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“I thought it was a really, really good defensive game,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said about the win. “Good discipline of the good game and we stacked good possessions against a good team.”

This win marked the return of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who missed one game due to a sprained knee. In his return, he scored 30 points on 20 shots and played within the flow of the offense.

“I thought we played pretty good last game,” Gilgeous-Alexander said on his return. “Coming back to the flow, I just didn’t want to throw off the rhythm. I just tried to fit in with the group. Do what was necessary and pick my spots accordingly.”

OKC kept a healthy distance from Atlanta for most of the game. At halftime, it owned a 58-50 lead. After a lengthy review, Lu Dort closed out the first half by being fouled on a 3-point attempt and making all three free throws.

The third quarter was much of the same story as the first half as the Thunder’s 38-27 scoring advantage created a 19-point lead entering the final frame.

The Thunder led wire-to-wire with a lead as large as 19 points, but Atlanta made a run late in the game to threaten OKC’s potential win.

Thanks to a 40-point fourth quarter, the Hawks cut it to a 114-109 deficit in the final 1:55 of the game. It felt like the Thunder were starting to slip away from their game-long lead.

After that though, the Thunder finished off the win with a 12-8 run. The two-play defense-to-offense sequence mentioned earlier was the exclamation mark of that final run to close out the win.

In the nine-point win, the Thunder shot 47% from the field and went 14-of-36 (38.9%) from 3. On the free-throw line, OKC went 22-of-23.

Meanwhile, OKC limited the Hawks on offense. They shot 37% from the field and 14-of-42 (33.3%) from 3. Trae Young was limited to 22 points on 5-of-18 shooting, 11 assists and seven turnovers. Dejounte Murray led Atlanta with 29 points on 7-of-16 shooting.

“I thought there were a couple of plays where the decisions were difficult for him, which is something that you have to do is keep him on his toes,” Daigneault said about defending Young. “Don’t give him the same dose of the same defense over and over again because, obviously, he’s a savvy player.”

This was a solid, much-needed win for OKC. After the Golden State Warriors debacle and the weekend off to chew on it, a win against a quality opponent was a nice refresher.

Entering Monday, the Hawks were on a four-game winning streak with impressive road wins after starting the season 0-2. The return of Gilgeous-Alexander ignited the Thunder and propelled them to a 4-3 record on the young season.

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

In his return from a knee sprain, Gilgeous-Alexander scored 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds and six assists. He shot 3-of-7 from 3 and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 20 points in the second half to extinguish any fears of a Hawks comeback win. The 25-year-old blew past Hawks defenders with ease to score on easy layups.

This was one of Gilgeous-Alexander’s best games of the season. The lack of free throws continues to be an issue for him as he only took two before the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

“I honestly just don’t know,” Gilgeous-Alexander said on the lack of free throws. “Whatever it is, we still have to figure out and find ways to win. That’s what we’re focused on. If that comes around, it’ll come around. If not, as long as we keep finding ways to win, we’ll be alright.”

Chet Holmgren: B-

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

In 34 minutes, Holmgren had 16 points on 4-of-14 shooting, 12 rebounds, three blocks and three assists.

One of the plays of the game was Holmgren grabbing a board, pushing the pace and finding fellow rookie Cason Wallace for a behind-the-back assist in the second quarter.

It showed off the seven-footer’s potential versatility as a playmaker, something not usually associated with players of his stature.

“He’s obviously a dynamic player,” Daigneault said about Holmgren. “Great rim contesting. He had a couple of blocks there but he also goes vertical in a lot of plays. He sticks his nose right in the play, which is one of the things I respect the most about him as a competitor.”

Lu Dort: B+

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the game, the biggest matchup to watch was how the Thunder handled defending Young. The former All-Star is easily Atlanta’s best player and its offensive hub.

Against OKC, Young was essentially a non-factor. He scored 22 points on 18 shots and committed seven turnovers. A lot of that can be credited to Dort and Wallace for the phenomenal job they did at guarding him.

As mentioned earlier, the biggest defensive play of the night occurred late in the fourth quarter, when Dort blocked a Young 3-point attempt. It was a nice bow to tie together a masterful defensive clinic.

In 32 minutes, Dort also contributed on offense as he scored 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists. He went 2-of-5 from 3 and 5-of-5 from the free-throw line.

Jalen Williams: B

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Williams scored a season-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting and went 2-of-5 from 3. This included nine fourth-quarter points to close out the win following a third-quarter buzzer-beater.

The 22-year-old went 5-of-7 from inside the paint with a mix of dunks and lobs. Despite the heavy traffic in the area, Williams only went 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. Overall, OKC was outshot by Atlanta from the charity stripe, 32-23.

“Don’t bother me,” Williams said on the lack of free throws. “Just keep going. Feel like eventually it’ll balance out.”


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