Player grades: Thunder’s 127-123 win over Celtics further cements status as contender

OKLAHOMA CITY — With MVP chants echoing throughout Paycom Center, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander knocked down a pair of free throws to seal another resume-building win.

The Oklahoma City Thunder continues their hot streak as they closed out a 127-123 win over the Boston Celtics. The Thunder extended their winning streak to five games — which includes victories over the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I thought we were pretty resilent tonight,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the win. “I thought we took some punches in the game flow. Obviously, opened up a nice lead in the fourth quarter… Made big plays down the stretch and executed with poise.”

The back-and-forth between two of the best teams in the league lived up to its expectations. The Thunder built a 31-29 lead after the first quarter. By halftime, the Celtics swung the score and led 61-58.

Coming out of halftime, a 40-point third quarter by the Thunder helped them enter the final frame with a 98-86 lead. OKC eventually created a game-high 18-point lead in the opening five minutes of the period.

With over two minutes left, the Thunder owned a nine-point lead off of a Chet Holmgren 3-pointer. It looked like the dagger before the Celtics made a late 11-4 run to turn it into a two-point game with 15 seconds left.

Alas, the Thunder managed to knock down their free throws to keep a healthy distance on the scoreboard and the Celtics simply ran out of time to rally for a comeback.

“They’re the No. 1 team for a reason,” Jalen Williams said on Boston’s late run. “They’re gonna make runs and they did a good job at executing down the stretch too. So did we. We kinda were able to hold the lead we had and thought we made some big plays down the stretch.”

Againt the third-best defensive-rated team, the Thunder shot 53% from the field and went 18-of-40 (45%) from 3. OKC continues to be a high-octane scoring machine and dished out 34 assists in its 48 buckets.

The Thunder finished with five players scoring double-digit points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander headlined the win with 36 points as the Celtics didn’t have an answer for him.

Meanwhile, Josh Giddey continues to force teams to question their defensive strategies on him with 23 points. After being invited to shoot the ball, Giddey’s outside shot helped OKC collect the win.

Meanwhile, the Celtics shot 46% from the field and went 15-of-40 (37.5%) from 3. Boston enjoyed a friendly whistle as it shot 24-of-29 from the free-throw line. They had 33 assists on their 42 buckets.

The Celtics were led by a pair of 30-point scorers in Jayston Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis. Tatum had 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Porzingis had 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Jaylen Brown was limited to 15 points on 4-of-18 shooting. The Celtics bench didn’t produce as they combined for 18 points.

Adding another impressive win over a contender — and arguably the best team in the league — OKC continues to cement its status as a contender despite its youth.

The Thunder have won eight of their last nine contests. Despite being showered with praise, the young squad continues to push through the noise and ignore buying into their own hype.

“We’re really playing together and we’re priorizitig winning over everything else,” Holmgren said on their recent success. “As far as long term, it doesn’t really prove anything I guess you could say. It doesn’t satisfy anybody. We know we have a long ways to go.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-plus

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

Playing against one of the best defenses, Gilgeous-Alexander had no problem dominating the Celtics in a statement win. Elite perimeter defenders like Jrue Holiday and Derrick White had no answer for the 25-year-old.

In 37 minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander had 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting, seven assists and six rebounds. He shot 3-of-5 from 3 and went 5-of-8 from the free-throw line.

Like he usually does, Gilgeous-Alexander took over the game in the third quarter with 16 points. He led OKC to its monster 40-point quarter to create distance on the scoreboard.

As he scored the final pair of points, the loud crowd chanted MVP for Gilgeous-Alexander. At this point, it’s hard to deny his strong case for the prestige award.

Josh Giddey: A

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

Over the last stretch of games, opposing teams have made the drastic decision to allow Giddey to have plenty of space when the ball reaches him. The game plan is to dare him to shoot, thus taking away possessions from OKC’s better players.

The scheme is sound, but it backfires when Giddey is hitting his shots. Against the Celtics, the 21-year-old foiled its plans.

In 27 minutes, Giddey finished with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, eight rebounds and six assists. He shot 4-of-7 from 3. He was a game-high plus-10.

Giddey partnered with Gilgeous-Alexander to lead the Thunder to a massive 40-point third quarter with 11 points. He also made a pair of important free throws late to push OKC’s lead to five points with 12 seconds left.

Who knows how sustainable Giddey’s recent 3-point shooting — he’s shot 8-of-15 these last two games — but for one night, it helped the Thunder pick up a huge win over the Celtics.

Chet Holmgren: B

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

After beating Aaron Wiggins, Tatum was quickly accustomed to Holmgren’s bread-and-butter rim protection with a loud block to highlight the seven-footer’s night.

In 33 minutes, Holmgren had 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, seven assists, four blocks and three rebounds. He shot 3-of-5 from 3.

The 21-year-old hit a pair of important 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to give OKC breathing room on the scoreboard, including a nine-point lead with over two minutes left.

Holmgren continues to play a vital role in OKC’s hot start this season. Despite their success, he continues to take a day-by-day approach.

Jalen Williams: B

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

With Gilgeous-Alexander resting, Williams led OKC’s second unit at the beginning of the fourth quarter and grew its lead. This proved to be an extremely important stretch for the Thunder.

In 31 minutes, Williams totaled 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, three steals and two blocks. He scored eight points in the fourth quarter to help close out the win — this included four important points in the final 1:19 of the contest.

Even though he had a quiet first three quarters, Williams’ loud final frame bowtied an impressive outing, where he outplayed Brown on the opposing side.


Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire