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

Player grades: SGA’s season-high 43 points leads Thunder to 128-120 win over Cavaliers

OKLAHOMA CITY — Hitting on a stepback 3-pointer, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sizzled out any chance of a potential double-digit blown lead.

The 3-pointer was the early dagger in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 128-120 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. OKC wrapped up a lengthy six-game homestand with an impressive win over a quality opponent.

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“That was a pretty complete game in terms of identity on both ends,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said. “I thought we were tough defensively… We were physical tonight on that end… We had some really quality possessions on offense that got them moving around.”

Playing a healthy Cavaliers, the Thunder got off to a 36-29 lead following the first quarter. OKC added to its lead and entered halftime with a 70-57 advantage.

In the fourth quarter, a pair of free throws by Caris LeVert cut OKC’s lead to four points. Following that, the Thunder went on a 12-4 run to push their lead to 12 points with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter.

The Thunder continue to put up an offensive clinic. OKC shot 51% from the field and went 12-of-28 (42.9%) from 3. It also enjoyed a busy night from the free-throw line as it went 28-of-30.

Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with a season-high 43 points on 15-of-22 shooting. It was a much better night for him from the free-throw line as he went 12-of-13.

Chet Holmgren continues to play like an early Rookie of the Year favorite. In his rematch against the Cavaliers’ lengthy frontcourt, he had 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

“Part of it is being in a lot of actions,” Holmgren said on his shot-contesting skills. “Usually, the other team’s five-man is setting a lot of screens, that means I’m guarding both the five and the guard for a period of time. A lot of times, those guards are coming off looking to score. I’m at the rim a lot and when I’m not, I’m closing out to shooters.”

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers struggled from 3 as they went 9-of-29 (31%). Cleveland also couldn’t take advantage of frequent trips to the free-throw line either as it went 27-of-37 (73%). The Thunder forced 20 turnovers against the Cavaliers and scored 30 points off of it.

“It was great team defense,” Lu Dort said on their defensive performance. “Just the effort was there to just have the back of the next man and just being able to load and contest at the rim and everything. I feel like they’re a tough team and our main thing was to make everything tough for them.”

Multi-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell was a nonfactor for the Cavaliers. He finished with 20 points on 8-of-23 shooting and went 1-of-9 from 3. Having to face the defensive two-man gauntlet of Dort and Cason Wallace was a tall task to overcome for Mitchell.

“He’s tough, he’s tough,” Dort said on guarding Mitchell. “He has the ball a lot. He’s a great player. My main thing is to make everything tough as always.”

The Cavaliers were led by Caris LeVert off the bench, who scored 29 points that included a 13-of-16 night from the free-throw line. Evan Mobley had 22 points and five rebounds.

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-plus

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

This was the best game of Gilgeous-Alexander’s young season. In 38 minutes, he scored a season-high 43 points on 15-of-22 shooting, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals. He went 12-of-13 from the free-throw line.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished a point shy of his career-high and has now scored over 30 points in five of his seven games this season.

This included a classic 15-point third-quarter takeover by Gilgeous-Alexander to push OKC’s lead to 22 points entering the final frame. Most of his scoring happened inside of the paint, where he shot 13-of-19 against the Cavaliers’ daunting frontcourt.

“I know that’s where I’m at my best,” Gilgeous-Alexander said on attacking the paint. “I felt good coming in tonight. I just wanted to play fast, play in my comfort zone and make the right basketball play at the end of the day.”

Gilgeous-Alexander’s lone 3-pointer served as the clincher for OKC as the Cavaliers’ threat was succumbed.

Chet Holmgren: B

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

In 29 minutes, Holmgren had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting, seven rebounds and three blocks. He scored most of his points inside of the paint, where he went 6-of-9.

Holmgren picked up a pair of quick fouls early in the game, but it didn’t spell doom for him as he managed to play the rest of the game without any real risk of fouling out.

After the game, Holmgren talked about the trust Daigneault has in his players to stay aggressive without fouling out. He also said he needs to learn to do a better job at managing the risk-reward aspect of contesting shots.

“He’s a talented dude,” Daigneault said about Holmgren. “He came in with a lot and now it’s about refining, it’s about finding an impactful and efficient way of playing that fits inside the team and he’s doing that to a high level.

“I give him a lot of credit, that’s a guy who could easily be looking at the box score, head in the clouds, reading all your Twitter feeds and instead, he’s just thinking about the scoreboard and winning.”

Lu Dort: B

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Eight games through the season and Dort has made a serious case to be the most improved player on the Thunder.

After struggling to finish inside of the paint last season and being a streaky high-volume outside shooter, Dort has reined it in this season for OKC in a smaller offensive role. In eight games, he’s averaged 15.1 points on 53.4% shooting.

Against the Cavaliers, Dort had 14 points on 3-of-9 shooting, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. He went 3-of-5 from 3 and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. A pretty good performance for someone who was questionable with a hip sprain.

“Just really reading the game, taking my time,” Dort said on his improved offensive stats. “The best thing I can do for my teammates sometimes is taking the open 3, sometimes it’s going to the lane and seeing who’s open… I spent a lot of time this offseason watching film and seeing some of the crazy shots I took over the past couple of years.

Dort also did a phenomenal job at limiting Mitchell, who entered the game averaging a league-leading 32.5 points on 53.8% shooting.

“I thought Dort was outstanding obviously on Mitchell. He went minute-for-minute with him in the second half,” Daigneault said.

Cason Wallace: B-plus

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Wallace was the other half of the Dort-Wallace defensive duo who did an excellent job at limiting Mitchell and Darius Garland. The Cavs’ backcourt combined for 35 points on 34 shots and eight turnovers.

The 20-year-old — who recently celebrated his birthday — scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 24 minutes off of the bench. He went 2-of-3 from 3.

The rookie guard substituted Josh Giddey for the final stretch of the fourth quarter of a close game against a respectable opponent. Dort revealed after the game he shares a group chat with Wallace where they discuss defensive assignments. It’s evident he continues to gain the trust of the team.


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