Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder come long way from embarrassment years ago
A historic win led to some reflection for Canadian superstar guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The Hamilton native scored 31 points in 21 minutes of action and his Oklahoma City Thunder clobbered the Portland Trail Blazers 139-77 last Thursday on the second night of a back-to-back set. The 62-point victory matched the fifth-largest rout in NBA history.
The Thunder were on the wrong end of the NBA’s biggest blowout, losing by 73 to Memphis on Dec. 2, 2021. Gilgeous-Alexander did not play that day, but remembered being embarrassed for his teammates.
"We've obviously come a long way from that day," he said following Thursday's win. “After that game, we addressed it, and we just made a promise to ourselves to never feel that feeling again.
"I think it’s been a little bit of our fuel to get to where we are today."
The night before the lopsided win over Portland, Oklahoma City defeated the Miami Heat 128-120 on the road to improve its record to 25-11. That marked the Thunder's best 36-game start since 2015-16, when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led the team to the Western Conference finals.
On Saturday, Gilgeous-Alexander poured in a game-high 37 points to lead Oklahoma City past the Orlando Magic 112-100. The victory not only extended the Thunder's then-winning streak to four games, but also briefly tied them with Minnesota for top spot in the West.
"I think we're starting to figure out what it takes to win games," Gilgeous-Alexander said following the win over Orlando. "And that's the only thing that's on our minds.
"And then we just try to be present in every moment and try to win the possession and hopefully it stacks up and leads to a W."
He missed all four of his three-point attempts but still finished 13-of-20 from the field, with six rebounds and seven assists. Gilgeous-Alexander also made six and-1s (making a shot despite being fouled and hitting the ensuing free-throw), giving Orlando fits.
"Shai is a tough guard," Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley said. "You put multiple defenders on him. By the time you send a double team, he’s looking to turn the corner. And that’s what makes him a great player."
Added Thunder coach Mark Daigneault: "(He) can get shots on the rim, which gives you a chance for an and-1 but also gives you shooting fouls. With the gather rule, the best guys have a sense for how to do that and it's something that he definitely has learned.
"It gives him a chance for some of those plays, some of those were really tough."
Despite being the NBA's third-leading scorer (31.3 points per game) and atop the board in steals (2.3 per game), the 25-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander was third among Western Conference backcourt players in the second fan returns of all-star voting last Thursday with 1,763,671.
However, he does find himself in the thick of the MVP race, with his stock having risen over the past month. Gilgeous-Alexander is holding his own alongside two-time MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and reigning MVP Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Asked which meant more to him between the all-star fan voting and MVP, Gilgeous-Alexander's response couldn't be clearer.
"MVP, for sure," he said with a laugh last Thursday.
Jamal Murray has provided a steady dose of strong play for the defending champion Nuggets, who continue to jostle with the Thunder for the second seed in the West.
Murray had missed some time earlier in the season due to injuries, with Denver having its share of issues consistently racking up wins without the Kitchener, Ont., native.
But Murray has scored 20-plus points in seven of the Nuggets' last eight games with the team going 6-2 so far in January.
— With files from The Associated Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2024.