Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's scoop shot is back, and the Thunder is back to .500
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drove the lane, didn’t quite get to the basket and thus had to improvise. That’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to SGA.
The scoop shot was back.
The underhanded, velvety flip shot that Gilgeous-Alexander displayed in his first few Thunder games was back in vogue Friday night. SGA scored a career high 32 points in a 126-108 rout of the Phoenix Suns. He made 13 of his 18 shots, and several of Gilgeous-Alexander’s baskets were those patented scoops; he made eight of nine shots from the restricted area, and he muscled the Suns for none of them.
“Shai was obviously playing downhill and getting to the rim,” Billy Donovan said. “They were trying to switch a lot tonight. He did a really good job at the point of those switches, changing speed, changing direction. He’s got an array of shots in and around the basket, with both hands.”
Donovan is a half-century gym rat. He’s seen a lot of basketball wizardry. And Donovan was impressed with the spins SGA puts on the ball. Think Phil Mickelson with a pitching wedge.
“The English he puts on the ball,” Donovan said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “A lot of times, those aren’t straight layups. He’s got the ball extended. Got a really soft shot around the basket.”
When Gilgeous-Alexander plays like this, the Thunder is a tough out. Four nights earlier, against Chicago, SGA played 34 1/2 minutes and took three shots. That’s basketball malpractice.
Gilgeous-Alexander doesn’t have the ball in his hands a lot – Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder usually quarterback, and deservedly so – but he needs it more.
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A scoring SGA makes the Thunder tough to guard and answers the question of whether this Thunder team is better offensively or defensively.
The Thunder entered Friday ranked 13th in the 30-team NBA in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency, but Gilgeous-Alexander’s explosion and the Thunder’s porous third quarter against Phoenix tilts the axis toward offense.
“We’re trying to become good at both,” Donovan said. “You gotta be able to play both to be a good team.”
But Donovan admitted the Thunder offense has “come a long way since those first few games when we couldn’t get to 100.” OKC reached triple digits only twice in its 1-4 start.
Now, OKC has reached .500 – 14-14 – for the first time all season, and defense might be the concern. The Thunder gave up 122 points to Memphis on Wednesday night, winning only with a comeback from 24 points down. And in the third quarter Friday night, the Suns scored 41 points.
Good thing the Thunder scored 44.
In fact, replay review waved off Ty Jerome’s running 3-pointer at the buzzer, else both teams would have scored 44 in the quarter. The Suns have been playing basketball for more than half a century and never had played a quarter when both teams scored at least 43 points in the same period.
The Thunder defense stiffened in the fourth quarter – the Suns scored just nine points the first 8:13 of the period – and OKC kept scoring. Particularly SGA, who scored via drives on three straight trips to blow open the game.
Then Gilgeous-Alexander scored on two more of those beautiful scoop shots, and there went the Suns.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.