Player grades: Isaiah Joe career game not enough for SGA-less Thunder in 124-115 loss to Suns

When Friday’s game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns was flexed to ESPN, the league likely thought it would get a superstar showdown between Kevin Durant and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

By the time the game started though, neither were on the court for the opening tip.

Durant — recovering from a sprained MCL — is still awaiting to make his debut for the Suns. Gilgeous-Alexander — coming off of a 41-minute performance the previous night — was listed as questionable before eventually being ruled out due to ankle soreness and a hip flexor strain.

Even though the stars were out, the Thunder and Suns still provided an entertaining game. Without their one-time All-Star, the Thunder fought valiantly bought ultimately fell short to the Suns, 124-115.

The Thunder depended on the three-ball to produce points as they went 15-of-37 (40.5%) shooting from 3. Isaiah Joe made up for Gilgeous-Alexander’s lost production as he scored a career-high 28 points.

Overall, the Thunder shot 41-of-94 (43.6%) from the field.

“We paced with them for a good amount of the game (and) that’s because of our offense,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “… For the majority of the game, I thought our offense kept us afloat.”

Even with OKC’s impressive outside shooting, the Suns made it a non-factor as they were equally hot from 3 at 14-of-38 (36.8%) shooting. From the field, the Suns went 42-of-90 (46.7%).

“We were just overall not tight enough on that (defensive) end of the floor to really give ourselves a chance,” Daigneault said.

With no Gilgeous-Alexander, the Suns made it a habit to get to the free-throw line and enjoyed a significant scoring advantage in that area. The Suns went 26-of-32 (81.3%) while the Thunder went 18-of-24 (75%) from the free-throw line.

An eight-point difference in a nine-point loss for the Thunder.

The Thunder masqueraded their scoring problems due to a hot shooting night, but there were several extensive stretches in the second half where it was clear they were missing Gilgeous-Alexander’s shot-making skills.

Josh Giddey and Lu Dort both tried to fill in that vacuum, but neither found a groove as they shot a collective 8-of-31 (25.8%) from the field. Without Joe’s once-in-a-season production, this game likely turns into a double-digit loss.

For the Suns, Devin Booker led the way with 25 points on 9-of-21 shooting and six assists. Booker enjoyed both the win and history as he became the all-time leader in Suns history for career made three-pointers.

Chris Paul also contributed with 16 points and six assists. Deandre Ayton collected a 14-point and 11-rebound double double. The Suns outscored the Thunder in bench points, 47-31.

Let’s take a look at Thunder player grades.

Isaiah Joe: A+

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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s absence was not felt in the first half as Isaiah Joe had the best half of his career with 21 points and 5-of-8 shooting from 3.

It took Joe less than two minutes into the second half to break his career high in points with 24 points off of a three-pointer.

In 36 minutes in a spot start, Joe finished with 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting that included 6-of-12 shooting from 3 and seven rebounds.

“His confidence is great. He missed a couple of early and he keeps coming,” Daigneault said. “… I thought he was a beneficiary of the movement of the ball. When we moved the ball, he got cracks. And on the possessions that we didn’t, it kinda took him out of the game a little bit.”

Although Joe’s moneymaker is his outside shooting, he was given more shot-creation freedom this game due to Gilgeous-Alexander’s absence and looked very comfortable in that role.

From a late training camp addition to a legit rotation piece, the Thunder have found a gem in Joe.

“He’s in the same mold as the Kenrich Williams’ of the world,” Daigneault said. “In terms of you can’t rock those guys. Whatever role you put them in, they stay ready and they’re the same player no matter what.”

Jalen Williams: A-

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The other big scorer for the Thunder was Jalen Williams, who finished with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, six rebounds and four assists.

14 of those points came inside of the paint as Williams shot 7-of-11 in that area. From the free-throw line, Williams went 5-of-6.

Several of his makes inside of the paint came off of off-ball cuts as Williams has made it a knack to create layups and dunks by simply cutting to the basket in timely manners and creating unspoken chemistry with his teammates on when to pass it to him.

Josh Giddey: D-

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This was a tough back-to-back for Josh Giddey coming out of the All-Star break. In his last two games, Giddey is averaging 12.5 points on 29.7% shooting — in total, he is shooting 11-of-37 from the field.

Against the Suns, Giddey finished with seven points on 3-of-14 shooting, five assists and four rebounds.

Giddey’s playing time reflected his struggles as he played just 24 minutes, the fewest among the Thunder starters.

Right now, I’d just chalk this up as a bad two-game stretch. It happens to everybody. Giddey’s performance since December has bought him plenty of real estate to not overreact to a couple of bad games.

Lu Dort: D-

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Just like Giddey, this was a poor outing for Lu Dort.

In 36 minutes, Dort finished with 17 points on 5-of-17 shooting and 1-of-7 shooting from 3.

It was a poor shooting night but Dort contributed in other ways. From the boards, Dort was great as he collected 10 rebounds — four of which were on the offensive glass. Dort also did a fine job on Devin Booker, who scored 25 points on 21 shots.

Having a quick shooting memory paired with a relentlessness to drive to the basket is a mixed skillset because it can lead to nights like tonight — where Dort continuously shoots despite prior results, which can lead to high-volume, inefficient shooting games that cause more harm than good.

But then again, because of it, Dort got to the free-throw line as he went 6-of-7 from the charity stripe.

It’s a delicate balance Dort must master if he wants to stick around for the long term.

Jaylin Williams: B

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Let’s wrap up on a positive note — Jaylin Williams was fantastic in his fourth consecutive start.

Williams finished with 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting that included going 2-of-3 from 3. Williams also added five assists and five rebounds.

Since Jan. 1, Williams is averaging 7.3 points on 52.1% shooting, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 18 games.

Without a true starting center, Williams has done an admirable job filling in that role.


Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire