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Player grades: Thunder complete 16-point comeback in 123-110 win over Rockets

Stationed in the left corner spot, Chet Holmgren drilled a 3-pointer off a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pass. The bucket capped off a monster second half for OKC. It’s only fitting the seven-foot rookie hit the dagger after a nuclear fourth quarter.

The Oklahoma City Thunder overcame a 16-point deficit to come away with a 123-110 win over the Houston Rockets. This was their league-leading 16th double-digit comeback of the season.

“We cut into (the deficit) and were able to get it to a safe spot at halftime,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the win. “And then the guys did a great job at coming out of the half, showed great persistence — obviously, Houston shot it well early. But we got really on track physically and I was impressed with the way we did that.”

The early returns of this contest looked eerily similar to the Thunder’s previous visit to Houston this season. It looked like OKC would lay another egg at the Rockets with a poor showing.

The Rockets had a 34-31 advantage following the first quarter. By halftime, Houston’s lead grew to 62-57 which included owning a lead as high as 16 points in the opening two quarters.

The second half featured the Thunder finally exorcising their Houston demons with a dominant defensive performance that slowly chipped away at the scoreboard. A massive fourth-quarter run decisively turned this game in their favor.

The Thunder outscored the Rockets, 30-21, in the third quarter to enter the final frame with an 87-83 lead. OKC went on a commanding 20-7 run in the second half to open up a 14-point lead a little over three minutes into the final frame.

Holmgren was the catalyst of this run as he scored nine straight points for OKC to start the fourth quarter. The Rockets had no answer for the seven-foot center, who turned into a scoring machine.

The closest the Rockets got the rest of the way was within eight points before OKC responded with a 9-0 run to put this one away. The Thunder’s 36-point fourth quarter turned it from a double-digit deficit to a double-digit win for them.

Overall, OKC shot 47% from the field and went 17-of-35 (48.6%) from 3. It went 14-of-15 from the free-throw line. It also dished out 30 assists on 46 baskets.

Gilgeous-Alexander tallied 36 points on 23 shots to lead the Thunder in scoring. Holmgren had 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists with 19 points in the fourth quarter. Jalen Williams scored 22 points and Lu Dort had 16 points.

“I thought (he) played with great recognition,” Daigneault said on Holmgren. “We continue to do a better and better job at finding him when he’s open for three and when he’s around the basket.”

Meanwhile, the Rockets shot 41% from the field and went 16-of-41 (39%) from 3. Houston held an advantage at the free-throw line over OKC, going 18-of-23.

Jabari Smith Jr. led the way with a monster 20-point and 17-rebound double-double. Alperen Sengun struggled through foul trouble and was limited to 19 points and 12 rebounds. Fred VanVleet had 20 points.

This was an impressive win for the Thunder, who’ve struggled in Houston recently. This comeback win snapped a five-game losing streak at Toyota Center for OKC. It also has now won 40 games before 20 losses, an impressive mark that’s been used as a barometer for serious contenders.

But considering what they’ve done this season, that’s been evident for quite a while now for the Thunder. A 40-17 record — with the 40th win being a gutted-out outing — is only an additional affirmation of that.

“We had some poise but it was more urgency. I thought tonight was a recognition of if we kept playing like that, they could’ve just run us off the floor,” Daigneault said on their double-digit comeback. “Our urgency ticked up and we go nastier and tougher and more tight and together on the defensive end of the floor.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-plus

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Hitting on a 3-pointer, Gilgeous-Alexander joined in on OKC’s avalanche during its flurry run in the fourth quarter with a little under four minutes left.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 36 points on 13-of-23 shooting, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. He shot 8-of-9 from the free-throw line. It was another dominant performance for the 25-year-old.

With the Thunder offense struggling in the first half, Gilgeous-Alexander carried the load until his teammates found a rhythm in the second half. He totaled 18 points in the opening two quarters.

The second half was much of the same as he scored 12 points in the third quarter during OKC’s comeback. The Rockets had no answer for the MVP candidate as Amen Thompson and Dillon Brooks drew mixed results defending him.

Chet Holmgren: A-plus

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In a four-point contest, Holmgren rattled off the first nine points for OKC in the fourth quarter. The variety of buckets was as exciting as the run itself — the 21-year-old did it on alley-oops, 3-pointers and dunks.

Overall, Holmgren had one of his best outings of the season. He totaled 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting, eight rebounds, seven assists and three blocks. He shot 5-of-8 from 3.

19 of his points came in the final frame as he went inferno in Houston during the most crucial part of the game. This included the dagger 3-pointer to ice out any faint hopes of a Rockets comeback.

This was a much better game compared to his first visit to Houston this season, where he scored a season-low four points. The 21-year-old showed off his scoring potential as a shot-making seven-footer who can score at all three levels.

On defense, he anchored a stout performance by the Thunder. OKC outscored Houston in the paint, 46-36. Sengun — Holmgren’s counterpart — had a quiet night and never took over.

This was an awesome game by Holmgren that was headlined by his monster fourth quarter that single-handedly sealed the fate with hot shooting.

“They had some breakdowns, we got some easy looks and that kinda got us flowing,” Holmgren said on the win. “I still think it started with defense. Getting stops, allowing us to get in transition and stuff.”

Jalen Williams: B-plus

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Williams was the Thunder’s third 20-point scorer. He finished with 22 points on 9-of-22 shooting, five assists and four rebounds in 36 minutes.

The second-year wing’s biggest contribution happened in the second quarter.

As it felt like OKC was letting go of the rope as Houston built up a 16-point lead, Williams scored 10 points in the frame to avoid disaster and make it a single-digit deficit.

Williams is usually the one who takes over the fourth quarter, but he instead continued to feed the ball to the hot Holmgren, who couldn’t miss to start the frame. The duo linked for a pair of buckets to turn the tide.

Lu Dort: B-plus

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The opening minutes of the contest were rough as both the Thunder and Rockets couldn’t buy a bucket. After the Rockets finally got the wheels turning midway through the period, OKC relied on Dort for early scoring.

Dort scored 11 of his 16 points in the first quarter. He was an underrated contributor to this win, as his early hot scoring helped the Thunder avoid digging a massive hole on the scoreboard from the get-go.

The 24-year-old shot 4-of-6 from 3 and limited Green to 11 points on 13 shots. VanVleet was also held to just 20 points on 16 shots. Dort was excellent for OKC on both ends of the floor in this much-needed win.

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Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire