Player grades: Jalen Williams’ game-winner lifts Thunder past Trail Blazers, 111-109

OKLAHOMA CITY — Dribbling to the left elbow, Jalen Williams hopped for a fadeaway jumper that swished in. The second-year forward celebrated the eventual game-winner to give OKC a two-point lead with two seconds left.

Needing a miracle, Malcolm Brogdon instead turned it over on the final possession as he tried to throw a sidelines lob to Deandre Ayton. The Oklahoma City Thunder avoided the upset in their 111-109 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

“I didn’t think we had (effort and energy) in the first half for whatever reason, but the guys did a good job at trying to work ourselves into the game and we found that in the second half and got tough,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the win.

After the first quarter, it looked like this third matchup between both teams would play out the same way the first two did — with a Thunder blowout win. OKC built a 38-28 lead. But a 38-point second quarter by Portland flipped the score as it entered halftime with a 66-58 advantage.

Coming out of halftime, the Thunder utilized a 30-point third quarter to enter the final frame with an 88-86 lead. Both teams continued to exchange points from that point forward in the final 12 minutes.

With 30 seconds left, Anfernee Simons hit a highly difficult 3-point shot to give the Trail Blazers a three-point lead. Williams pulled it within one point on the next possession before pandemonium unfolded.

After Brogdon was called for a double dribble with 15 seconds left, Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups lost his cool and charged after the officials for the critical call, earning himself two technicals and an automatic ejection.

After the game, head official Bill Kennedy explained Billups received two technicals because of physical contact and his reaction to the first technical. Billups said he was upset because he tried to call a timeout when Brogdon was trapped before his turnover.

It was reported by ESPN that the Trail Blazers will protest the result due to Billups’ ejection resulting in two free throws and possession.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander split the technical free throws, which meant both teams had 109 apiece with 15 seconds left. OKC had possession and Williams hit the aforementioned self-created jumper.

A failed lob attempt ended the contest and the final buzzer sounded. It was a  successful avoidance of a bad loss to the Trail Blazers thanks to a chaotic final few possessions.

The Thunder shot 48% from the field and went 7-of-23 (30.4%) from 3. OKC also shot an uncharacteristically 18-fo-28 from the free-throw line that highlighted the off night it endured.

Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 33 points and 10 assists. Williams scored 19 points. Chet Holmgren had eight points and six blocks.

Meanwhile, this was the best outing yet for the Trail Blazers against OKC. Portland shot 43% from the field and went 18-of-39 (46.2%) from 3. Six players scored double-digit points for the Trail Blazers.

Jerami Grant had 18 points and five rebounds. Brogdon collected 18 points and seven assists. Simons scored 17 points and had five assists. Jabari Walker collected a 14-point and 13-rebound double-double.

Off the bench, Scoot Henderson had his best outing against OKC yet. The 2023 No. 3 pick totaled 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting, seven assists and four rebounds.

This was an important win for the Thunder. If OKC is going to keep pace for the top seed, then it needs to collect wins over the worst teams in the league. It took more work than most anticipated, but it avoided a large upset.

“They have respect for those players, they know who those players are,” Daigneault said. “We knew we were gonna have a tough opponent tonight. We didn’t come in expecting an easy game and it wasn’t.”

The Thunder will now look to sweep this home-and-road back-to-back against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-plus

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Against one of the worst teams in the league, Gilgeous-Alexander’s shot was off for most of the night. His jumper wasn’t as automatic and lots of misses were close calls.

With that said, Gilgeous-Alexander still had a monster-scoring night. He had 33 points on 10-of-24 shooting, 10 assists, six rebounds and five steals. He shot 13-of-17 from the free-throw line.

After being held to 16 points on 13 shots in the first half, Gilgeous-Alexander turned it up in the second half with 11 points in the third quarter. He hit a bailout fadeaway jumper late in the fourth quarter to give OKC a one-point lead with 1:47 left.

After Billups was ejected, Gilgeous-Alexander went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line. Instead of demanding the ball with a chance to hit a game-winner, he elected to opt for the best play, which resulted in Williams’ game-winner.

On the ensuing possession, Gilgeous-Alexander broke up a hopeful lob pass to seal the close win — it was his fifth steal of the night. A massive night for him despite his shot not falling like it usually does.

Jalen Williams: A-plus

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t the most efficient night from the usual efficient wing, but Williams made his shots when it mattered the most, which garners high praise in itself.

In 32 minutes, Williams had 19 points on 9-of-20 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.

In a close contest in the fourth quarter, Williams was OKC’s main scoring option with eight points on 4-of-11 shooting. Two of his four made shots happened in the final 25 seconds to lead the Thunder to the close win.

This included Williams’ game-winner off of a fadeaway jumper — the biggest bucket of the night. The 22-year-old continues to ascend as OKC’s second go-to scorer.

Chet Holmgren: B-plus

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Against the lowly Trail Blazers, Holmgren had a busy night protecting the rim.

In 32 minutes, Holmgren had eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, 10 rebounds, six blocks and three assists. This included three blocks in the fourth quarter alone.

The seven-footer continues to contribute to winning basketball for the Thunder. Even with his quiet offensive night, a six-block performance garners praise.

Aaron Wiggins: B

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

During the first half, the Thunder looked lethargic. Daigneault tried to find a spark on the bench and eventually found one in Wiggins.

The third-year forward continues to make the most of his opportunities. Against the Trail Blazers, he had 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and three rebounds in 17 minutes.

Four of his five baskets inside of the paint resulted in assists, which continues to show Wiggins’ ability to cut to the basket efficiently and find angles that result in easy looks.

“He brought a lot of juice offensively, defensively,” Daigneault said on Wiggins. “Plays the system on both ends of the floor.”


Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire