Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder made strong statement in win vs. Celtics

Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder made strong statement in win vs. Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is arguably a top-five player in the NBA right now, and the Boston Celtics found that out first hand Tuesday night.

The Oklahoma City Thunder ended the Celtics' six-game win streak by earning a 127-123 victory at home. OKC jumped out to a large lead in the third quarter by outscoring Boston 40-25 in the frame. The C's made a strong comeback attempt in the fourth quarter but ultimately fell short.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored a game-high 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting, while also tallying seven assists, six rebounds and one steal in 37 minutes.

The superstar point guard dominated most of the game, even against Celtics guards Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, both of whom are considered among the top defensive players in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander made six of his nine shots when defended by Holiday, and he shot 4-of-6 against White, per the league's tracking data. It's pretty rare that you see one player have so much success against those two guards.

"I work really hard," Gilgeous-Alexander told reporters in his postgame press conference. "When I work out, I work out like the best defender in the world is guarding me, so that in moments like these, it's my comfort zone. I'm aware of the league and teams and how good the players in the league are, and that's why I work so hard."

The Celtics made an adjustment in the fourth quarter by putting Tatum on Gilgeous-Alexander. The OKC star scored just three points in the fourth quarter (all at the free throw line) and shot 1-of-4 when guarded by Tatum.

“I thought we stayed square (on Gilgeous-Alexander),” Mazzulla said of Boston's defense in the fourth quarter. “We didn’t give him looks at the basket, which is hard to do because it’s every single possession. So I thought in the fourth quarter we did a better job. We picked up a little bit higher, stayed square, didn’t give him angles. And if we did, we just had guys at the rim and kind of made multiple efforts.”

Tatum's length might have impacted Gilgeous-Alexander a little bit, but he did do a nice job finding the open man, including two assists on Chet Holmgren 3-pointers.

"Tatum did a good job using his size. He's bigger. It doesn't really change anything for me. I just try to be aggressive, make the right basketball play, and play to my strengths."

It's possible that Tuesday's game was a preview of the 2024 NBA Finals. The Celtics lead the Eastern Conference and overall NBA standings with a 26-7 record, while the Thunder (23-9) are one game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for first place in the Western Conference.

The next time these two teams play will be April 3 at TD Garden in Boston. It'll be a fantastic late regular season test for both sides as they prepare for the playoffs.

“That’s a talented young team,” Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis told reporters postgame. “And I don’t believe this was some fluke game for them. They’ve been playing really well. They’re at the top of the West, no? A really good team to go up against, and a really good experience for us.”