Grading the OKC Thunder starters:
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, OKC Thunder: A
The superstar guard made just eight of his first 19 shots, but none of those mattered as he rose up for the game-winner in the closing seconds.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s mid-range jumper gave the Thunder a win and gave him an MVP moment early in the season. A lot of the night looked similar to his early-season matchup against the Nuggets, where he scored a season-low seven points.
But he never stopped attacking. He dropped 11 points in the fourth quarter to push the Thunder over the hump.
As an MVP-caliber player, he impacted the game in other areas. His improved playmaking was shown off in Denver, tallying eight assists.
Gilgeous-Alexander also added six rebounds and continued his league-leading campaign with two steals.
Josh Giddey, G, OKC Thunder: F
Can’t play Giddey.
The third-year guard was nearly unplayable in Denver. He finished with a plus-minus of -7, but his inability to help the Thunder make up ground on the scoreboard led to him playing just five minutes in the second half.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault also benched Giddey coming out of halftime, opting for Jaylin Williams instead.
Lu Dort, F, OKC Thunder: B-
It was not Dort’s finest night, but he did enough to help the Thunder win. That included a fourth-quarter bucket as the Thunder tried to make a final push.
Defensively, Dort was not always his usual self and had a couple of silly fouls. But he knocked down a couple of threes, finishing with 13 points to cap a solid 26 minutes.
Jalen Williams, F, OKC Thunder: A
The second-year star’s slump was short-lived. Leading the Thunder in scoring until Gilgeous-Alexander’s last shot, Williams scored 24 points on 11-of-20 shooting.
Williams had some big plays in the final stretch, scoring six points in the last three minutes. That includes a tough finish at the basket to cut the Nuggets’ lead back to one and trigger a two-for-one opportunity.
Before his big basket to set up a game-winner, Williams found Chet Holmgren on an alley-oop that also put pressure on the Nuggets and cut the deficit to one.
Chet Holmgren, C, OKC Thunder: A+
Holmgren finished with a double-double, putting up 17 points and 11 rebounds. Oh, and he blocked some shots.
The Thunder’s rookie finished with nine blocks, just one shy of a triple-double and the most by any player this season. He entered halftime with only two blocks to make his feat even more impressive.
He noted in the postgame that he would have gotten to 10 if he hadn’t let Jamal Murray dunk on him in the first quarter. But Aaron Gordon did not have that same luck in the fourth quarter as Holmgren blocked the Dunk Contest legend’s potential throwdown from behind.
Maybe his most impressive play of the night came when he blocked Peyton Watson twice on the same possession. The first came as he pinned a layup against the backboard before Watson tried again and was denied by Holmgren as the ball went off Watson out of bounds.
Holmgren also put down a dunk of his own on a lob from Jalen Williams with 1:39 left.
His final and most important defensive play was not a block. He got a great contest on Nikola Jokic’s final shot, which he missed to set up Gilgeous-Alexander’s jumper on the other end.