As the game against the Lakers wound down, the Thunder found themselves in an unexpected position. The young Thunder had grabbed onto the lead and were holding off the experienced, title-winning Lakers. Oklahoma City had already performed miracles against LA earlier in the season; the same result happening again was improbable.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander chose his moment to finally announce himself to the world. We all know that Shai is a brilliant basketball player but very few people outside of the Thunder community know that. When you hear Shai’s name nationally, he is compared to the likes of De’Aaron Fox and Collin Sexton.
The discussion of truly elite young guards is limited to a select group of players, Morant, Mitchell, Booker and Young. Before Thursday, nobody except Thunder fans would utter Shai’s name as a contemporary to these great young stars. Gilgeous-Alexander is now firmly in that conversation after his exceptional display against one of the most glamorous teams in the NBA.
The Thunder were up by 3 with possession of the ball with a minute remaining of the game. Common sense dictates that the leading team burns time off the clock and limits the number of possessions left in the game. Gilgeous-Alexander had different ideas; he wanted to stick the blade straight through a purple and gold heart.
SGA stopped perfectly on the ‘L’ of the Lakers’ logo and effortlessly drained a jumper that delivered an ‘L’ to LA. The play itself was smooth, precise and incredibly cerebral. Shai did not wait for the double teams to swarm him; he attacked before the defense could have a chance to respond.
The deep bomb catches opposing teams off guard; it was a tool used effectively by Gilbert Arenas during his prime years with the Washington Wizards before that shot entered the lexicon of the NBA. Shai’s version of the logo shot was absolutely amazing to watch.
The shot was calm and unhurried; Gilgeous-Alexander did not seem to play with any nerves as he closed out a team with legitimate championship aspirations. That one moment encapsulated a superb performance from the young Canadian.
Gilgeous-Alexander danced to the rim time and time again evading three or four defenders at every single turn. Kent Bazemore had no chance, the same could be said for DeAndre Jordan and Anthony Davis. He sliced the Lakers’ porous defense apart and you could feel the anxiety in the crowd.
Shai kept on silencing the crowd while the home team floundered. His performance quieted one of the more raucous arenas in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder and it is not a stretch to say that he was the best player on the floor.
Shai carried the Thunder last season and he has only gotten better. Gilgeous-Alexander is now even more potent in isolation situations. Gilgeous-Alexander has mastered the sidestep three and developed a wicked little step-back jumper. Both of these moves allow him to find space whenever the defense is attempting to pressure him.
Gilgeous-Alexander has vaulted into the elite tier of NBA guards. It is up to his team to prove that they can match his effort and rise to the challenge. Luguentz Dort and Josh Giddey have both shown that they are game for challenge. We need to see that across the rest of the roster; consistent productive basketball for all 48 minutes.