Player grades: Thunder’s late comeback falls short in 141-138 loss to Hawks

Trailing the entire game, Isaiah Joe had a chance to complete a 21-point comeback with a corner 3 at the end of regulation. Alas, the sharpshooter’s attempt fell short as the final buzzer sounded.

Playing on the second night of a home-and-road back-to-back, the Oklahoma City Thunder fought admirably after looking sluggish for most of the contest in their 141-138 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

“We didn’t have our best tonight obviously but I thought we stuck together and stayed in it,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the loss. “I thought as the game wore on, we got more and more energy and more and more engaged after obviously a sluggish start.”

Not scoring their first points until nearly four minutes into the contest, it was evident fairly early the Thunder entered Atlanta battling fatigue. A flight delay the previous night only guaranteed OKC tipped off with a scheduling disadvantage.

To the Hawks’ credit, they took advantage of this and got off to a 39-25 lead following the first quarter. The Thunder’s offense started to pick up in the second quarter with 34 points, but Atlanta’s 37-point second frame saw OKC enter halftime trailing 76-59.

The third quarter saw both teams turn it up a notch with their scoring — the Thunder scored 44 points and the Hawks scored 40 points. Entering the final frame, OKC trailed 116-103.

From that point on, the Thunder and Hawks continued to exchange buckets. With less than three minutes left, it looked like OKC’s hopes of a comeback finally vanished as Atlanta led by 15 points.

Instead, what proceeded was a 14-2 run by the Thunder in the final 2:20 of the contest to work their way back for the aforementioned chance of potentially tying it up.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander single-handedly almost mounted a comeback as he scored the final nine points of the contest. Overall, he led OKC with 33 points and 13 rebounds.

Jalen Williams was OKC’s other big scorer with 21 points. The Thunder enjoyed a productive night from their bench with 49 points.

After a slow start, the Thunder turned into a scoring machine for the final three frames. Overall, OKC shot 55% from the field and went 18-of-36 (50%) from 3. It shot 20-of-26 from the free-throw line and collected 30 assists on 50 buckets.

The problem for the Thunder was on the other side — the Hawks scored with ease as they had 37-plus points in the first three quarters. Atlanta shot 51% from the field and went 14-of-39 (35.9%) from 3. It went 31-of-33 from the free-throw line and had 30 assists on 48 buckets.

The monster scoring night from the Hawks was headlined by four 20-point scorers. Atlanta’s backcourt led the way as Trae Young had 24 points and 11 assists while Dejounte Murray had 22 points, six assists and six rebounds.

Jalen Johnson scored a career-high 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting and Bogdan Bogdanovic totaled 23 points and shot 5-of-11 from 3 off the bench.

“The energy that we needed to have wasn’t there for much of the night on the defensive end,” Daigneault said. “… We just didn’t play well enough to win.”

Considering the circumstances, this one felt like it was safe to pencil in as a scheduled loss for the Thunder. After picking up a massive win over the Boston Celtics, it only makes sense OKC struggles on the second night of a home-and-road back-to-back.

It felt that way for most of the game. But even though the Hawks led wire-to-wire, OKC’s late flurry to turn it into a three-point deficit makes this loss easier to stomach.

“It’s not always going to be perfect (but) I’ll always ride with these guys any night,” Daigneault said. “It wasn’t our fastball tonight… To continue to fight the way we did was impressive.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-plus

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Playing with heavy legs, Gilgeous-Alexander turned in another marvelous performance for the Thunder as he gutted out a 30-point game.

In 35 minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander had 33 points on 11-of-24 shooting, 13 rebounds and eight assists. He shot 9-of-11 from the free-throw line.

Like OKC, Gilgeous-Alexander had a slow first period, scoring seven points on 1-of-6 shooting. In the second half though, it was a different story for the All-NBA guard — he scored 24 points in the final two quarters to valiantly lead a comeback attempt.

This included a personal 9-0 stretch in 70 seconds in the contest’s final moments. Gilgeous-Alexander scored the final nine points to give OKC a Hail Mary chance of going into overtime.

Even though it was a loss, the 25-year-old’s dominant stretch in the second half shouldn’t get forgotten too easily. He continues to play like one of the best players in the league.

Jalen Williams: B-plus

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the other three Thunder starters combined for 35 points, Williams provided OKC with a second scorer on a night where nobody had real juice.

In 35 minutes, Williams had 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, six assists, four steals and three rebounds. Like Gilgeous-Alexander, the second-year wing was energized in the second half.

The 22-year-old scored 18 points in the second half — including 12 in the fourth quarter. With Gilgeous-Alexander on the bench to start the final frame, Williams helped cut into Atlanta’s lead.

Williams scored most of his points at the rim, where he shot 8-of-10 from inside of the paint. The Hawks had no answer for defending him.

Aaron Wiggins: B

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

On the second night of a back-to-back, Daigneault elected to extend his rotation and Wiggins was arguably the biggest benefactor.

In 21 minutes off the bench, Wiggins finished with 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting, three rebounds and two assists. He scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting inside of the paint.

This included an 11-point second quarter to help OKC keep a tolerable deficit entering halftime. As the Thunder play a heavy dosage of games this month, expect the third-year wing to continue to get minutes to keep legs fresh.

“I thought the intent of (more Wiggins) was energy-based,” Daigneault said. “Inject some energy with guys that haven’t played as much and let the motivation of the opportunity ignore us a little bit.”

Cason Wallace: B

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As the Thunder’s starters, OKC’s bench stepped up to keep it a competitive contest. Wallace led the reserves with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting and went 3-of-7 from 3 in 20 minutes.

The left corner spot was the rookie’s favorite spot as he shot 2-of-5 from that area. He scored seven points in the third quarter to assist in OKC’s 44-point frame.


Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire