Player grades: Thunder suffers stagnant second half in 118-113 loss to Kings

Seldom do NBA games live up to the hype Friday’s game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings received.

Thanks to a 11-5 record in their previous 16 games, the Thunder have played themselves into playoff contention. Meanwhile, the Kings — behind one of the best offenses in the league — have been one of the biggest surprises this season, competing for a top-three seed.

Friday’s game featured two of the top three offenses in the league since the calendar flipped to 2023. The Kings were first at 125.6 points scored per 100 possessions and the Thunder were third at 121.7 points scored per 100 possessions.

While the offensive fireworks cooled off in the second half, the Thunder stayed competitive against the Kings, but ultimately lost, 118-113.

As cliché as it is, it was a tale of two halves for the Thunder.

The Thunder opened the game with a quick 9-0 lead that preluded the high-scoring half they enjoyed. By intermission, the Thunder scored 66 points and led by seven points. A hot outside shooting half guided the Thunder to a lead, going 12-of-21 (57.1%) from 3.

The ball movement was crisp and the outside shooting rewarded the infectious passing with points. By half, the Thunder made their season average of made three-pointers a game.

In the second half though, those makes turned into misses.

The Thunder scored just 47 points on 20-of-46 (43.5%) shooting from the field. From 3, they shot 4-of-19 (21.1%).

Despite the offensive well drying up for the Thunder, they were able to keep the game competitive as neither team led by more than 10 points with six lead changes and six ties.

The young Thunder fought valiantly against a really good Kings squad backed up a very rowdy home crowd.

Although the offense stagnated late, the Thunder dirtied the game and forced the Kings to play down to their level. It almost worked too.

A late 5-0 run in the final six seconds almost saw the Kings revert back to the ‘Kangz,’ but the Thunder ran out of time and were not able to get the ball back within one-possession.

Alas, despite their best efforts, the Thunder were not able to pull the plug on the beam.

For the Kings, the trio of Domantas Sabonis, De’Aaron Fox and Keegan Murray highlighted their five-point win.

After missing the last game due to a non-COVID illness, Sabonis recorded a triple-double of 18 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds. Murray was the best rookie on the floor as he finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds. Fox finished with 25 points on 10-of-22 shooting.

The Thunder — who have been playing an aesthetically-pleasing brand of basketball over the last several games — reverted back to relying heavily on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the second half.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 37 points, the rest of the starters combined for 47 points. While it was awesome to see Gilgeous-Alexander go off, the Thunder need to go back to how it was playing if they want to sustained their recent level of success.

Despite the result, the Thunder should be encouraged with their outing against the Kings. To go into a hostile environment against one of the best teams in the Western Conference shows a level of poise and talent that should encourage fans for how the rest of the season can turn out.

Let’s take a look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A+

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After playing a team-friendly style of basketball recently, averaging just 24 points in his last three games, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returned to his usually-dominant scoring self tonight.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 37 points on a highly-efficient 16-of-23 shooting and dished out seven assists.

With the rest of his teammates struggling to generate offense, Gilgeous-Alexander took over the reins and finished with 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting in the second half.

Like most nights, Gilgeous-Alexander did a lot of his scoring inside the paint and on short mid-range two-pointers. Gilgeous-Alexander went 11-of-15 inside the paint and 14-of-20 on two-pointers.

A great individual night that I’m sure Gilgeous-Alexander would trade in for a win.

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Isaiah Joe: A+

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Despite the Thunder having wildly different shooting halves, Isaiah Joe was the one consistent from beyond the arc.

Off the bench, Joe was the second-leading scorer for the Thunder, finishing with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting from 3.

In the first half, Joe was lights out — scoring 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3. The second half saw the Kings defend Joe much better, limiting him to nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3.

Joe enjoyed the wing spots on the perimeter as five of his seven made threes came in those two areas. The other two made threes came from the corner spots.

Joe continues to be a legit three-point sniper for the Thunder and teams are requiring to spend valuable defensive attention on him as he moves off the ball to find open spots.

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Josh Giddey: B-

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It wasn’t his loudest performance, but Josh Giddey had a solid game.

Giddey finished with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, went 1-of-4 from 3, grabbed 10 rebounds and collected five assists.

Like most nights, Giddey did a lot of his scoring inside the paint, going 6-of-8 with a combination of textbook drives and floaters.

After scoring 11 points in the first half, Giddey was limited to just four points in the second half.

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Lu Dort: B-

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Nobody on the Thunder exemplified the difference between the first and second half more than Lu Dort.

Dort finished with 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting and went 3-of-5 from 3. A solid scoring night in a vacuum, but considering all 15 of those points came in the first half and Dort was held scoreless in the second half, it dampers the grade a bit.

It also doesn’t help that both Fox and Murray went off against the Thunder, combining for 54 points.

While it’s unfair to put the full blame on Dort for the duo’s dominance, it is noteworthy that two of the Kings perimeter players were able to cut apart the Thunder defense with ease.

Dort would ultimately foul out with 3:46 left in the game as the Kings led by eight points at that point of the game.

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Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire