Player grades: Thunder falls to Heat’s historic free throw performance in 112-111 loss

The Oklahoma City Thunder was not able to overcome history in a 112-111 loss to the Miami Heat.

In their first game on national TV in over two years, the young Thunder impressed as they were in a battle against the shorthanded Miami Heat.

The catalyst for the Heat’s win happened while the game clock was stopped. The Heat went a historically perfect 40-of-40 from the free-throw line. This broke the 1982 Utah Jazz’s record for most team free-throws made without a miss at 39.

The 40th free-throw was a poetic one as Jimmy Butler — who made 23 of the Heat’s 40 free throws — gave the Heat the one-point lead with 12.2 seconds left.

The Thunder were not able to answer on the other side and ultimately fell short.

Butler also made individual history as well, as he registered the first regular season game in NBA history history where someone scored at least 35 points on six or fewer made shots.

The trio of Butler, Victor Oladipo and Max Strus carried the offensive load for the shorthanded Heat as they combined to score 76 of the Heat’s 112 (67.9%) points.

Butler finished with 35 points on 6-of-17 shooting and 23-of-23 from the free-throw line. Strus finished with 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting. Off the bench, Oladipo finished with 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting.

The Herculean efforts from these three — specifically Butler — were much needed. The Heat only had nine available players to start the game. By the middle of the second quarter, this number dropped to eight following Dewayne Dedmon’s ejection for throwing a massage gun onto the court — yes, that’s a real thing that happened.

For the Thunder, it was a sloppy game on offense. The Thunder shot 44-of-91 (48.4%) from the field and 9-of-35 (25.7%) from 3. The Thunder also committed 18 turnovers and although the Heat had 19 of their own, it’s still bad basketball security.

The saving grace for the Thunder’s two-point loss is the individual performances of their young backcourt in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. Both were phenomenal and provided a national audience a glimpse as to what the future holds.

Let’s take a look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-

Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

It took him a while to get going, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was able to turn in a respectable performance of 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting and 2-of-4 shooting from 3.

Gilgeous-Alexander used a strong second-quarter to jumpstart his night as he scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in seven minutes.

Gilgeous-Alexander also added four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Although, six turnovers kind of negates that.

The Heat’s zone defense continues to give Gilgeous-Alexander fits as he turned the ball over 11 times in both matchups. Gilgeous-Alexander kept driving into the basket and the lanes were clogged with Heat defender’s arms swiping at the ball.

This was probably the biggest critique for Gilgeous-Alexander’s night — outside of a slow first-quarter start that saw him score two points.

The usually-secure Gilgeous-Alexander averages 3.2 turnovers a game. An impressive number considering how often the ball is in his hands. Against the Heat this season, that number jumps up to 5.5 turnovers.

Josh Giddey: A-

Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Giddey was the other huge positive for the Thunder. Which is nice, considering Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey are the most important healthy pieces of the rebuild.

Giddey collected his sixth career triple-double and finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. The outside shot didn’t fall for Giddey as he went 0-of-4 from 3, but the aggressiveness is an encouraging long-term sign.

Much like Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey struggled against the Heat’s unique defense with six turnovers. It’s hard to overcome 12 turnovers coming from just two players.

Although, like Gilgeous-Alexander, this likely speaks more about the Heat than it does Giddey as he averages an impressively-low three turnovers a game.

OK with his overall performance covered, can we talk about how cool it was to see Giddey single-handedly stop a three-on-one Heat fastbreak without resorting to fouling?

Giddey’s money is made on the offense with his passing and rebounding, but that might’ve been the most impressive possession of the night. I definitely geeked out when it happened live.

Kenrich Williams: B

Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t want to pin the loss on Kenrich Williams for going 0-for-2 from the free-throw line and failing to grow OKC’s two-point lead with 22 seconds left.

Like Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault always says, basketball games are 48 minutes long. Trying to pin the result of that on a single sequence is unfair.

With that said though, missing those two free throws were critical for the Thunder. I think we can acknowledge that while also acknowledging just how well Williams has played both tonight and in recent games.

In 24 minutes, Williams scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed four rebounds.

In five January games, Williams is averaging 11.4 points on 67.6% shooting and 6.4 rebounds.

Lu Dort: D

Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

It was not a good night for Lu Dort as he finished with 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting and went 1-of-6 from 3.

Dort eventually fouled out and was never really noticeable on the defensive end.

In his last two games, Dort is shooting 11-of-33 (33.3%) from the field. For Dort, this is likely just a bad two-game shooting stretch for him as he continues to experience ups and downs with his shooting this season — and really, his entire career.


Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire