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

Player grades: Thunder young core shines in 127-110 win over Wizards

OKLAHOMA CITY – Who needs size to win basketball games?

The Oklahoma City Thunder were able to disprove that theory in a 127-110 win over the Washington Wizards.

The Thunder were in control for the entire game as they were up 35-17 after the first quarter. The Thunder’s lead was as large as 27 points. The Wizards were never really able to threaten the Thunder.

Missing several frontcourt players, the Thunder were forced to start Mike Muscala as the starting center and essentially play small-ball the entire game. Despite that being the case, the Thunder were able to score more points in the paint.

On paper, the Wizards should’ve had a clear advantage with their size. Instead, that was nullified for most of the game.

The massive Wizards forward duo of Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma were relatively held in check. Porzingis finished with 14 points on 3-of-11 shooting and 10 rebounds. Kuzma, who’s enjoying the best season of his career, finished with 23 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

The Thunder enjoyed a strong outside shooting game as they went 17-of-37 (45.9%) from 3. Meanwhile, the Wizards struggled and went 7-of-24 (29.2%) from 3.

The Thunder also had a significant turnover advantage, as they outscored the Wizards 32-9 on points off turnovers. The Wizards finished with 20 turnovers and the Thunder finished with 10 turnovers.

Based off of those two areas, the Thunder outscored the Wizards by 53 points. If you want to boil down the Thunder’s win in this one, it could be simplified to their advantage in three-pointers and turnovers.

Overall, it was solid night for the Thunder. With the amount of players out, the Thunder young quartet of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams and Lu Dort combined to score 86 of the Thunder’s 127 points. Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey combined for 50 points.

These are the type of nights most Thunder fans dream of during the offseason. The Wizards, despite missing Bradley Beal, are a respectable opponent. The young Thunder being able to swiftly beat them due to their young core provides flashes on what the future can hold when the rosters matures.

“(Physicality is) not the mark of young teams usually and that’s a challenge that we pose to our guys. We got to make up for inexperience and the fact that we’re probably not as physically developed as we’re going to be at some point. We got to make that up with physicality,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said, “From top to bottom, I thought we really took the fight to them.”

Let’s take a look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A+

Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was able to turn in his 23rd 30-plus point game of the season.

In 33 minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting, four assists and three rebounds.

Gilgeous-Alexander did most of his scoring in the second half, as he scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

Like most nights, Gilgeous-Alexander scored his points inside the paint, as he went just 1-for-4 on shots outside of that area — which were all three-pointers.

Funny enough, Gilgeous-Alexander mentioned after the game that his friends and coaches have been trying to pursue him into taking more three-pointers. On the season, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging his fewest-amount of three-point attempts a game at below three.

While it would be a nice tool to have in his bag, if Gilgeous-Alexander continues to score highly-efficient 30 points on a consistent basis, why mess with that?

Josh Giddey: A

Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

After the game, Josh Giddey revealed that he’s recently trying to muscle his way to the rim for layups instead of settling for awkward floaters like he previously did to start the season.

The change is noticeable as Giddey is having high-efficient scoring games on a regular basis.

In 37 minutes, Giddey finished with 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting, nine assists and six rebounds.

The SGA-to-Giddey connection was strong as both were featured on several impressive plays.

The best one featured Gilgeous-Alexander starting a fastbreak after a steal and passing it to Giddey, who threw the lob to Jalen Williams for a flashy dunk.

The Thunder aren’t really known as a super athletic flashy team, but for this one play, I thought I was watching the old Chris Paul and Blake Griffin Clippers.

Another notable play was this nice give-and-go action that essentially sealed the game. Despite questions surrounding their long-term fit, Friday night provided a glimpse of what a positive outcome could look like.

Jalen Williams: A-

Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Williams continues to build his reputation as a dunker with several impressive slams against the Wizards.

Williams finished with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists. Williams — who’s been struggling from outside this season — shot 2-of-4 from 3.

After digging through some stats, it turns out Williams has more dunks than some notable athletic/big players like Joel Embiid, Ja Morant and Jalen Green. Pretty impressive stuff by Williams.

Lu Dort: B+

Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Considering he was limited to just 23 minutes due to foul trouble, Lu Dort had a very efficient game.

Dort finished with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting and went 3-of-4 from 3. Dort also collected six rebounds and four assists. Dort is shooting 39.8% from 3 in his last 25 games. 

Dort finished with five fouls. Luckily for him, Daigneault was savvy with his coaches challenge and was able to get a fifth foul overturned for Dort early in the second half.


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