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Suns face Thunder All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for first time this season

OKLAHOMA CITY – Thunder All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has yet to play against Phoenix in the two matchups this season that the Suns won as he’s been battling an abdominal injury.

The Phoenix Suns haven’t forgotten about him, though.

“He’s just big,” Suns coach Monty Williams said about the 6-6 Gilgeous-Alexander. “You don’t see too many guys that big and that long who can put the ball down and get to their spot. Has great footwork. Can go midrange, can go floater, can finish at the rim and with time, he can knock down the 3.”

Fifth in the NBA in scoring at 31.3 points a game, Gilgeous-Alexander is shooting 51.1% from the field overall, 35.2% from 3 this season.

“When you see him on film, you realize he’s standing next to a guy that’s 6-7, 6-8 and he’s darn near the same size, except he’s a point guard,” Williams added.

Gilgeous-Alexander leads OKC (34-36) into a pivotal game Sunday afternoon at Paycom Center against Phoenix (38-32), which is without injured Deandre Ayton (hip) and Kevin Durant (ankle), but Landry Shamet (foot) is expected to return as he hasn’t played since Jan. 16 at Memphis.

The Thunder are battling for a spot in the play-in tournament. They’re ninth in the West, only a half game ahead of the Lakers, but just two behind the Mavericks, who are sixth in the conference.

“We haven’t been in this situation the past couple of years, but it’s the most fun basketball,” Gilgeous-Alexander said after scoring 29 points in OKC’s win Thursday at Toronto against his hometown Raptors.

“Things matter. You really see who’s who. I think we’ve responded very well. We came out the gates slow. I’m proud of where the guys are. I’m glad of where we’re headed. It’s been fun.”

Last season, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 30.5 points in his two games against the Suns.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander makes the pass around Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander makes the pass around Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Phoenix won both meetings in its historic 64-win season, but Gilgeous-Alexander posted 29 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the first game Dec. 23, 2021 in Phoenix and scored 32 in the second game Feb. 24, 2022 in OKC.

Gilgeous-Alexander committed 11 total turnovers in those two games, too.

So, he put up numbers both good and bad for OKC in those outings, but Gilgeous-Alexander is as challenging to defend as any perimeter player in the league.

“I’ve just watched his game progress and get better and better every year,” said Suns All-Star Devin Booker as he and Gilgeous-Alexander both played college ball at Kentucky. “I think he’s more comfortable out there, he’s finding his spots. It looks really easy for him, especially getting to the line a lot.”

Gilgeous-Alexander is fourth in the league in free throw attempts at 10.6 a game.

“He’s found creative ways to finish through contact and draw contact," Booker added. "He’s a hell of a player.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Suns face OKC All-Star Gilgeous-Alexander for first time this season