SGA, Jalen Williams reminded us Luka, Kyrie aren’t the only great scorers in this series

SGA, Jalen Williams reminded us Luka, Kyrie aren’t the only great scorers in this series

The Thunder stars fueled the second-half spurts that put away Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| May 8, 2024, 7:33am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

May 8, 2024, 7:33am CDT

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took a couple of dribbles at the top of the key as Luka Doncic shuffled his feet, spread his arms and watched SGA’s every move.

For a couple seconds, it was a standoff.

But when SGA took a hard dribble to his left and Doncic shifted his weight ever so slightly, the Thunder superstar knew he had his opening. He stepped back and fired from behind the arc, and even though Luka lunged, the ball was long gone by the time his hand got anywhere close to SGA.

The shot splashed home.

The very next possession, the Mavericks defender changed — PJ Washington this time — but the move and the result was the same for SGA. 

The bucket gave the Thunder a double-digit lead that it would only add to.

Thunder 117, Mavs 95.

On a night Oklahoma City continued its undefeated start in the playoffs by dominating Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, there was lots to like. Lu Dort’s defense. Cason Wallace’s defense, too. Aaron Wiggins’ big game. Chet Holmgren’s looming presence. Isaiah Joe’s outside shooting.

But as good as all of that was, nothing was better than knowing we were going to get to see a pair of world-class scorers — and realizing they were wearing Thunder uniforms.

Yes, yes, Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic are great scorers. Both hit shots Tuesday that were highlight-reel worthy. But they were absolutely outplayed by Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams.

“Great players show up when you need ‘em,” Wiggins said. “Those guys were big. They made tough shots, and they came through in moments where we needed them to come through.”

The raw numbers tell the story of how good the Thunder’s world-class scorers were. 

Kyrie and Luka combined to score 39 points on 13-of-33 shooting and 9-of-13 from the free-throw line.

SGA and J-Dub combined for 47 points on 14-of-34 shooting and 15-of-17 from the free-throw line.

But get this: in the first half, they were only 5 of 15 from the floor — Williams missed all five of the shots he took — but in the second half, they combined to make 9 of 19 shots. 

“I think on this stage, it’s easy to get carried away with makes and misses,” Williams said. “I think everything’s a little more magnified because every possession feels super intense, so it’s easy to kind of get down on yourself or not shoot anymore.

“You just kind of understand it’s basketball and have a next-play mentality.”

When it mattered most, Williams and Gilgeous-Alexander delivered. 

When the game was swung, they were the ones doing the swinging.

Those back-to-back 3-pointers for SGA, for example, pulled control away from the Mavs. They had cut the Thunder’s nine-point halftime lead to only one point less than five minutes into the second half. Luka was finding teammates for shots. Kyrie stepped into a transition 3-pointer that forced a Thunder timeout.

The Mavs’ superstars seemed to be finding their groove.

But when SGA hit those threes, it seemed to deflate Luka and Kyrie. They combined to score only four points the remaining 3:55 of the third quarter.

“Playing against a team that shoots the ball the way they do, they can get hot and go on runs,” SGA said. “You never really have complete control over the game.”

Control, however, seemed seized in the fourth quarter when Williams had a defining stretch. He hit a driving layup over the outstretched hand of a defender, putting the ball high off the glass and in. Then, he hit a three from the left wing. Then, a pump-fake three. Then, a dunk on a drive down the baseline.

Williams outscored the Mavs 10-3 all on his own during the 96-second span.

“Dub does what h does in the fourth quarter,” Holmgren said. “Got it going, and really opened up the game for us.”

Now, the defense the Mavs played on Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams wasn’t as good as the defense the Thunder played on Luka and Kyrie. That’s because Dallas doesn’t have a Lu Dort. Few teams do. But OKC has five or six players who can really lock down opponents; Dallas has three or four.

And that might be generous.

Still, SGA and Williams made big shots at crucial junctures in the biggest game of their careers to this point. 

“You get a lot of opportunities in this league to play against the best basketball players in the world,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It’s always fun to play against that and see where you really match up. 

“There’s no bigger stage.”

The playoffs are when reputations are built, and Tuesday night, both Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams added to theirs. They put bricks in the wall, water in the well, money in the bank. 

Who knows what it might mean long-term. It could help Williams make the All-Star Game for the first time or earn All-NBA accolades sooner. It might boost SGA’s MVP hopes down the line.

But on Tuesday night, what it meant was more immediate, giving the Thunder a dominating start to the series and serving notice to the Mavs that they aren’t the only team in this series with two world-class scorers.

“I think it’s cool just guarding those guys in a high-stakes game,” Williams said. “You know you’re getting their best shot every game.”

The Thunder took some good shots from Luka and Kyrie in Game 1.

But the bigger blows, by far, were landed by the world-class scorers in Thunder uniforms.

 

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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