Shai Gilgeous-Alexander serves a reminder of his greatness and uniqueness

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander serves a reminder of his greatness and uniqueness

The Thunder superstar’s 40-point performance reminded the basketball world of his greatness and uniqueness.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 10, 2024, 12:00pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 10, 2024, 12:00pm CDT

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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sat near the back corner of the interview room and waited.

And waited. 

He had come in as Thunder teammates Chet Holmgren and Lu Dort took to the stage and began their interviews, so as they answered questions about rallying from a 20-point deficit and beating the Kings 112-105 on Tuesday night, SGA patiently waited. He didn’t fidget. He didn’t squirm.

He looked as cool as the blue-tinted sunglasses he was wearing.

This might not seem like a big deal, but rare is the NBA superstar who just chills while teammates do interviews. In previous Thunder heydays, had a superstar entered the interview room as SGA did in his green leather jacket and diamond-encrusted chains, the teammates would’ve gotten cut short or bumped to the back of the line.

But that’s not Gilgeous-Alexander’s style, even as he’s risen to the heights of stardom and the upper echelon of the MVP race.

He’s unique.

Tuesday before he entered that interview room, he reminded the entire NBA world just how unique. 

After a quad injury that hobbled him for nearly three weeks and forced him to miss six of the last seven games, he returned not only to the lineup but also to form. He scored 40 points on just 21 shots as he got to the free-throw line a career-high 20 times.

“As you guys can tell,” he said once he got to the stage in the interview room, “my leg’s a little bit better than it was before.”

There were moments throughout the night that showed that.

Showed his uniqueness, too.

Like the start of the second half. After a flat second quarter in which the Thunder scored just 17 points and allowed the Kings to build a 19-point halftime lead, SGA came out and seemed to say, “We are turning this around.” 

He opened the half with a three from the left wing, then hit a contested jumper over Keegan Murray a couple of minutes later that cut Sacramento’s lead to 10 and forced a timeout.

Then came an assist to Dort for a three and a bucket in transition that forced another timeout.

SGA scored 17 points in the third quarter, as many as the Thunder scored in that disastrous second quarter.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” he said.

“We were down 19. We kind of didn’t have any time to waste, so I wanted to get right to it.”

Sometimes, we think SGA is all about finesse. All about artistic drives to the basket with a smooth jazz soundtrack. And he had a few of those plays Tuesday, the ones where he seems to be defying gravity.

But Tuesday, SGA was also about force. He brought the fight to the Kings in the third quarter, punctuating the frame by hounding Keon Ellis all the way down the court, then swatting a buzzer-beating three into the courtside seats.

And SGA kept coming at the Kings in the fourth quarter. 

Now, it didn’t always work out. SGA’s first three shots in the frame, all drives to the basket: blocked, missed, blocked. 

But it didn’t deter him. He continued to attack, continued driving the lane, continued taking contact. Over the final 5:20 of the game, he drew fouls on four possessions, shooting eight free throws and making seven of them. 

“He’s a great player,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “They tend to be hard to hold down for 48 minutes.”

SGA’s lone basket of the fourth quarter was his pièce de résistance.

With a little less than 90 seconds remaining in the game, SGA maneuvered inside the arc on the right wing and picked up his dribble with his back to the basket. Davion Mitchell hounded him from behind, staying on SGA’s right hip, blocking him from spinning on his right pivot foot to face the basket.

But with a couple of quick, hard jab steps with his left foot, SGA got Mitchell to move a bit to his left. It opened enough space for SGA to spin and get a look at the basket. Mitchell was still in front of him, though.

A crafty bump was the last bit of work that created just a sliver more room to allow a fadeaway jumper.

Splash.

“It was crazy,” Dort said of the moves. “I don’t know how you can even guard that.”

It’s not the kind of shot we see much from Gilgeous-Alexander, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t in his arsenal.

“I work on situations,” he said. “Believe it or not, I work on that shot. I work on trying to create a shot with my dribble picked up. Just because you never know when you’re going to need something, and I try to be as well-rounded a weapon as I can.”

Tuesday night, he was a knife one minute, a sledgehammer the next.

Unique.

And as the final seconds ticked away on SGA’s return and OKC’s rally, he did something else unexpected. For him anyway. The usually stoic SGA turned to the Paycom Center crowd, lifted his arm and urged more noise. He then cupped his hand to his ear, asking for even more.

“Felt good to be back,” he said.

It was a night to remember his grandeur and his uniqueness.

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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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