Player grade: Strong second half helps Thunder beat short-handed Heat, 128-120

Only leading by six points, Tyler Herro’s missed sideways 3-pointer helped spark a game-sealing transition bucket as Josh Giddey passed out of a double team to find a wide-open Chet Holmgren for the easy dunk.

The transition score ended a three-plus minute scoring drought for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their 128-120 win over the Miami Heat. A strong second half by OKC sealed the road victory.

“I just didn’t think, physically, we were very good (in the first half),” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the win. “Especially at the rim — they were just kinda slicing through us getting wherever they wanted to go. They were very comfortable there. In the second half, we really tightened the screws there.”

It was a tight, high-scoring contest in the first half that saw the Heat enter the break with a 69-65 lead. Miami couldn’t miss from outside as it shot 9-of-19 from 3 in the first two quarters.

After allowing nearly 70 points to a short-handed Heat, it looked like OKC’s defensive woes on the road continued. Coming out of halftime though, the Thunder locked down and held Miami to 33% shooting for the final two frames.

The Thunder started the third quarter on an 11-0 run to take a nine-point lead. OKC turned in a 34-point period to enter the final frame with a 99-96 lead. In the opening five minutes of the final frame, OKC capped off a 20-2 run to open a 16-point lead.

In the final three-and-a-half minutes, the Heat rattled off 10 consecutive points to apply pressure to the Thunder. After leading by 16 points with a little under four minutes left, it suddenly was a six-point contest.

The aforementioned Holmgren bucket released any stress of a potential Miami comeback.

The Thunder continue to be an offensive machine. OKC shot 59% from the field and went 14-of-33 (42.4%) from 3. It dished out 36 assists on 51 baskets.

The Thunder’s trio headlined this win. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 28 points, Jalen Williams finished a rebound shy of his first career triple-double with 19-12-9 and Chet Holmgren totaled 23 points and three blocks.

“We’re sharing the ball, it’s impressive,” Daigneault said on their offensive outing. “They trust one another and trust what we’re doing… I thought we had great movement tonight. Both great movement with our off-ball stuff and movement with the ball.”

Meanwhile, the Heat turned in a valiant effort considering their health situation. Jimmy Butler missed his fifth consecutive contest and Kyle Lowry was ruled out.

The Heat shot 46% from the field and went 15-of-36 (41.7%) from 3. Miami shot 23-of-28 from the free-throw line. Overall, the Heat had six players score double-digit points.

Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, 11 rebounds and six assists. Jaime Jaquez Jr. contributed with 21 points on 6-of-9 shooting and five rebounds.

Haywood Highsmith’s 19 points and Nikola Jovic’s 15 points also were surprising performances for the Heat in a game where they needed those types of outings without two of their best players.

Overall, it was a solid win to wrap up OKC’s four-game road trip. Even without Butler, the Heat prove to be a viable opponent. The Thunder will need to quickly enjoy this win as they’re set to conclude a road-and-home back-to-back.

“It was the end of the trip, we have not had our fastball physically the last couple games I think,” Daigneault said. “I didn’t think we had it tonight. But we drummed up the energy. We had the mental toughness to stay in it and drum up the energy…

“I thought we got stronger as the game went on and I thought some of that was just the contagiousness of the group. We see that time and time again.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Considering who was out for Miami, Gilgeous-Alexander took advantage of their absences with another efficient, high-scoring outing.

In 34 minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander had 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting, eight assists and two rebounds. He shot 2-of-5 from 3 and went 4-of-5 from the free-throw line.

Gilgeous-Alexander helped OKC keep up pace with 11 points in the first quarter as the Thunder allowed 35 points to Miami. He scored 16 points in the second half to help flip the score and seal the win.

The All-NBA guard continues to be a lethal mid-range scorer as several of his buckets came in that area. The Heat didn’t have Butler to help slow him down and their zone defense didn’t work either.

Jalen Williams: A-plus

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last two games, Williams has ascended to being OKC’s second ball-handler. The non-SGA lineups where he is the primary playmaker continue to thrive.

In 35 minutes, Williams finished a rebound short of his first career triple-double, instead, he’ll take solace with a career-high in assists. He totaled 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, 12 assists and nine rebounds.

He continues to be a versatile scorer as several of his buckets came on tough self-creare mid-range shots and off of assisted shots inside of the paint where he found a seam in the crowd.

With Gilgeous-Alexander on the bench, Williams helped orchestrate a 13-0 run to start the fourth quarter that served as the dagger for OKC’s close road win.

Chet Holmgren: A

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

After committing a careless turnover, Holmgren loudly cleaned up his mess with a vicious block on a Tyler Herro inconsequential layup attempt in the final seconds.

It was a fitting end to a great performance by Holmgren. The 21-year-old finished with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting, nine rebounds and three blocks. He shot 1-of-5 from 3.

Holmgren led the Thunder in the fourth quarter with nine points to complete the road win. His last bucket was arguably his biggest of the night as it extinguished the Heat’s chances of an unlikely comeback.

OKC’s massive fourth quarter can be attributed to Holmgren’s growing chemistry with Williams — three of the former’s six baskets inside the paint resulted in assists for the latter. It appears the duo continues to flourish in their lineups where Gilgeous-Alexander is on the bench.

Cason Wallace: B

With Josh Giddey and Lu Dort struggling, Daigneault elected to bench the latter to start the second half in place of Wallace.

To Wallace’s credit, he fit well with the rest of the starters and played a key role in OKC’s strong start to the second half. Overall, he had eight points on 3-of-5 shooting and went 2-of-4 from 3.

Even though the 20-year-old rookie didn’t play in the final frame, his third quarter was enough to earn a shoutout for the win. Wallace continues to succeed in his role as a backup guard who can spot-start when needed.


Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire