Severely shorthanded OKC Thunder deliver gutsy win – player grades

JANUARY 25: Chris Paul #3 of the OKC Thunder shoots the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)
JANUARY 25: Chris Paul #3 of the OKC Thunder shoots the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder
JANUARY 25: Chris Paul #3 of the OKC Thunder smiles during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

PG. Oklahoma City Thunder. CHRIS PAUL. A+.

Early on Chris Paul’s shot wasn’t falling but eventually, he settled into a groove and ended the evening with an efficient line finishing second only to Dennis Schroder in scoring.

His fingerprints were all over this game both in terms of how he dictated the pace but even more impressively via the attitude he and through extension, the team played with.

It was CP3 at his surliest, most competitive and witnessing the youngsters adopt the same stance was highly entertaining. I’m not sure Chris Paul has experienced this much joy playing basketball in a long time.

To that end, arguably this is the most joy he’s ever experienced given the young stars who clearly are all aboard the Point God train and with his wisdom from years of service is producing an exciting brand of basketball best suited to magnify all his strengths.

Paul registered a double-double of 25 points and 10 assists adding four rebounds and two steals.

B+. . G/F. Oklahoma City Thunder. SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER

It was a given  Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wouldn’t get anywhere close to the same space or freedom as he received in the January 13th match in Minnesota. His 20 point, 20 rebound, 10 assist triple-double opened Ryan Saunders eyes to the need for a specific defensive game plan to stop the Canadian. and that’s what SGA was faced with.

Frequent trade rumors swirl around Robert Covington and his early defense on SGA tonight demonstrated why so many teams are interested in the wing.

A combination of SGA not having quite earned full whistle respect yet and the defensive panache of RoCo meant the first half, in particular, was a constant series of traps, hand slapping, bodying and double teams.

He shot a horrific 3 of 14 from the field but every single shot he took either had Covington’s hand on his, or he was being bodied during the shot. It was a classic case of a team electing to foul on every play knowing the refs would only call so many fouls and eventually stop blowing the whistle. RoCo committed to the game plan and the strategy worked early.

SGA took six free throws only KAT took more (8). This speaks to his focus to stay aggressive in spite of the physicality. All the attention paid to Shai opened up avenues for the others and they delivered.

On the night his line was 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two blocks.  His best offering this evening though might be how well he played the role of decoy.