LOS ANGELES – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 40 points as the Oklahoma City Thunder staged a second-half rally on the back of his “jugular-type mentality” to eclipse Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
Gilgeous-Alexander shot 12-of-24 from the field while draining 16-of-19 free throws, as Oklahoma City overturned a 15-point first-half deficit for a 124-120 National Basketball Association victory.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said: “I thought he didn’t have his normal jugular-type mentality on his drives (in the second quarter).
“And he got back to that in the second half and really put pressure on them. That gets the fouls going.”
The Thunder had trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter but outscored Phoenix 34-24 in the final frame – with Gilgeous-Alexander contributing 10 points – to grab the win.
The win boosts Oklahoma City’s play-off hopes, with the Thunder improving to 35-36 in the Western Conference for eighth place.
Only a handful of games separate a host of teams jostling for the post-season in the West, where Phoenix remain in fourth place with a 38-33 record.
On the Thunder, Phoenix coach Monty Williams said: “That’s been their hallmark for the last couple of years, where they’re just going to play a certain way.
“That’s their mentality. They’re just a team that’s going to keep coming. They’re going to play 48 minutes plus.”
Phoenix, meanwhile, were sparked by 46 points from Booker but saw only three other players in double figures after a steely Oklahoma defensive display in the second half.
“It was a total team effort,” Gilgeous-Alexander said afterwards. “There was some adversity throughout the game, but we kept pushing, stuck to our game plan and came up with the ‘W’.”
He believes that Oklahoma City’s young players have emerged stronger after back-to-back losing seasons. They finished the 2021-2022 campaign with a 24-58 record, the third-worst record in the league.
“We’re super tight on and off the court,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
“I think it’s because we’ve been through so many ups and downs...
“We’ve been through a losing season. Obviously not the most fun basketball, but to see the tide turn – we’re in good shape.”
Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic’s 28th triple-double of the season helped the Denver Nuggets to a 108-102 win on the road against the Brooklyn Nets. The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player finished with 22 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists as the Western Conference leaders improved to 48-24.
The Nuggets have already assured themselves of a post-season berth and are now aiming to lock down top seed in the final three weeks of the regular season.
Michael Porter Jr led the Denver scorers with 28 points, while Jamal Murray added 25.
Elsewhere, Giannis Antetokounmpo bagged a triple-double as the Milwaukee Bucks returned to winning ways with a 118-111 victory over the Toronto Raptors. AFP