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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, rolling Thunder overwhelm Heat

UPI

MIAMI, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander often appeared to hover, pausing mid-flight while deciding between rim attacks and sizzling passes, as the Oklahoma City Thunder stormed past the Miami Heat on Wednesday in Miami.

The All-Star guard made defenders seem motionless as he smoothly wiggled, dribbled, penetrated and leapt through the paint, dominating tempo in the 128-120 victory at the Kaseya Center.

"I know that if I don't empower [teammates] and get the best out of them, I won't get to my ultimate goal," Gilgeous-Alexander said, when asked about his ability to orchestrate the offense.

The early NBA MVP contender totaled a game-high 28 points, with eight assists. The Thunder (25-11) sank 59.3% of their shots, including 69.2% in the first half.

The Heat (21-16) made 41 of 89 attempts (46.1%), but shot an ice-cold 31.8% (7 of 22) in the third quarter. That drought dragged into the fourth, while the Thunder shooting stayed steady.

"In the second half we really tightened the screws," Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. "We were really alert."

The Heat opened the game with an 11-2 run, which included a trio of 3-pointers. The Thunder closed that gap, but still trailed 35-29 to start the second quarter. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 11 points over the first 12 minutes.

The Thunder then used a 10-3 run to steal momentum. They took their first lead of the night when guard Isaiah Joe sank a 3-pointer a minute before halftime. The Heat answered by scoring the final five points of the quarter to carry a 69-65 edge into the break.

The Thunder, who made just 1 of 4 3-pointers in the first quarter, made 6 of 9 in the second. Joe made all three of his deep attempts in the quarter.

They stayed hot in the third, opening the quarter with 13 unanswered points. The Heat missed their first five shots of the second half.

They woke up for an 8-0 run late in the quarter to cut into the deficit. The lead exchanged hands eight times over the final five minutes of the quarter.

The Heat made just 7 of 22 shots in the third quarter. Gilgeous-Alexander scored nine of the Thunder's 34 points. The Thunder carried a 99-96 edge into the fourth.

They harnessed that momentum down the stretch, scoring 13 unanswered to start the fourth. The Heat missed their first nine shots of the quarter as the Thunder built a 16-point advantage.

The Heat eventually went on a 10-0 run over the final minutes, but could not completely rally from the large deficit.

Thunder center Chet Holmgren chipped in 23 points in the win. Forward Jalen Williams totaled 19 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.

Heat center Bam Adebayo logged 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Rookie guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. totaled 21 points for the Heat. Heat forward Haywood Highsmith scored a career-high 19 points.

Gilgeous-Alexander, a first-time All-Star in 2022, is now averaging career-highs in points (31.5), assists (6.4) and rebounds (6.0). His league-leading 2.4 steals per game are also a career-best.

"He sees the big picture about as well as anybody that is as ambitious as him this early in his career," Daigneault said of Gilgeous-Alexander. "You know, he's been like that from day one. He's always seen the big picture.

"He understands that the game in front of us is important because the game in front of us fits into a larger picture. ... You know he can be an elite player, but he doesn't stifle the guys around him. That's one of the most impressive things."

The Thunder will host the Portland Trail Blazers at 8 p.m. EST Thursday in Oklahoma City. The Heat will host the Orlando Magic at 8 p.m. Friday at the Kaseya Center.