Shai Gilgeous-Alexander flashes new tricks as Thunder tops Spurs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepped back, eluding Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge, and swished a 3-pointer. The Thunder guard took not one step, but two. It was his own version of the double-step-back jumper that James Harden has cleverly patented.
Gilgeous-Alexander is still adding tricks to his game in his second season, and he revealed a new one Thursday night in the Thunder’s 109-103 win against the Spurs.
It was the Thunder’s first regular season win in San Antonio since Christmas Day 2014. The Spurs had won eight consecutive games on their home floor against the Thunder in the regular season.
A dazzling third-quarter performance from Gilgeous-Alexander erased the Spurs’ nine-point halftime lead. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 15 points in the third — his career high in any quarter. He shot 5-of-8 from the floor, 2-of-2 from three and 3-of-4 from the free throw line in the frame.
“I think as the game wore on, Shai figured out where he could pick some of his spots,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told reporters after the game. “He had a couple where he got all the way to the rim and obviously a couple where he made some nice teardrop shots, which were big.”
Gilgeous-Alexander finished with a team-high 25 points on 56 percent shooting.
“I’m just trusting my work,” Gilgeous-Alexander told Thunder sideline reporter Nick Gallo after the game. “I’m putting it in every day.”
The Thunder (19-15) extended its winning streak to four games. Oklahoma City has won eight of its last nine games.
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Gilgeous-Alexander owned the third quarter, but the scoring load was spread evenly over the course of Thursday night. Five Thunder players scored at least 13 points while two Spurs — DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge — accounted for 30 and 22 points.
Rookie forward Darius Bazley scored seven straight Thunder points late in the first quarter. Bazley’s last bucket in the stretch came on a banked 3-pointer from the left wing. Bazley backpedaled down the floor with a wide grin.
The second quarter was Dennis Schroder’s. After an 0-of-4 shooting mark in the first quarter, Schroder scored 10 points in the second quarter on 4-of-6 shooting and a pair of long-range makes. Chris Paul often calls Schroder a “pest” on defense, and Schroder lived up to the label when he defended Spurs guard Bryn Forbes full court and forced Forbes into an eight-second violation.
And, just as he did against the Mavericks on Tuesday night, Paul carried the Thunder in the fourth quarter. Paul entered the final 12 minutes with a quiet six points. He rattled off 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Paul’s pull-up jumper with 2:09 left gave the Thunder a 103-93 lead, its largest of the game. After Aldridge hit a 3-pointer to narrow OKC’s lead to six points in the final minute, Paul responded with a stepback jumper on the next possession to seal the Thunder’s victory.
“We have so many weapons on the court towards the end of the game that teams can’t really load up,” Gilgeous-Alexander told reporters after the game, “and they can’t take certain people away from us because it leads to other things for us.”
Paul came into the game leading the NBA with 91 points in clutch time — the last five minutes of a game that’s within five points. He increased his hold atop that category against the Spurs.
The Thunder has played an NBA-leading 26 games decided in clutch time. It has won 16 of those games, including Thursday night.
“We have been in this situation a lot this year,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, “and we’re just getting better at it.”