Before Oklahoma City’s guard gathered his missed three-pointer from the left corner, Gilgeoeus-Alexander streaked from the baseline past Nikola Jokic to flush a two-handed dunk.
Gilgeous-Alexander took over the first half for the Thunder from that point on.
The Toronto, Canada, native scored seven straight points to give the Thunder a 60-52 lead over the Nuggets at the end of the second quarter. At halftime, He had a team-high 19 points on a 9-for-14 shooting.
Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t finished there, however. Despite shooting 1-for-10 in the second half, Oklahoma City’s star-studded point guard ended with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists – his second career triple-double.
While Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to shoot from three (0-for-7), his heroics in the first half pushed the Thunder (11-19) to a demanding win over the Nuggets (15-15) on Wednesday night, which is Oklahoma City’s third win in a row.
“I thought his pace of play, especially in the first half, was pretty impressive against pressure,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said. “He just cruised at his own pace there especially early in the game and did a nice job finding his teammates as well. Spraying out there for shots and cuts and guys did a good job of moving, which is critical against a defense like that.”
Notably, this win was unfamiliar territory for Oklahoma City. The Thunder led the league in 15-point comebacks (six), but OKC didn’t have to come from behind tonight.
The Thunder garnered a 24-point lead with just 2:25 remaining in the third quarter, their largest lead of the season. And while Denver went on a 13-3 run to start the fourth, Oklahoma City finished the blowout with a 13-8 run.
Surprisingly, Oklahoma City’s offensive performance was enough for Nuggets’ head coach Mike Malone to bench his starters for the entire fourth quarter.
“We were just playing smart, aggressive basketball and taking what the defense gave us,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Denver plays aggressive coverage in the pick and roll (on defense). We didn’t fight it. We made the necessary pass and played unselfishly.”
Oklahoma City forward Darius Bazley had another impressive outing off the bench. Bazley has combined for six blocks in the past two games, and tonight he had two.
He scored 17 points (7-for-11 field goal percentage) on the offensive end, grabbed 11 rebounds and one assist. Being benched just three games ago, Daigneault’s lineup change has paid its dividend for the Thunder and Bazley.
“I thought he played well,” Daigneault said of Bazley’s performance off the bench. “Part of being a pro is being able to adapt to different roles and different situations when your number gets called… This is a good growth opportunity for him.”
Lu Dort and rookie forward Josh Giddey had 15 and 14 points, respectively, versus the Nuggets. Dort extended his streak of consecutive games with a made three-pointer to 43 games by drilling the game's first shot. Giddey, who came just two points from the youngest player to tally a triple-double in the NBA, also put up five rebounds and three assists.
As Oklahoma City pivots to its second game of a back-to-back versus the Phoenix Suns (25-5) at 8 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Dec. 23, in Phoenix, Giddey and the Thunder are using the three-game win streak as a significant confidence boost.
“Tonight we came out strong out of the gates,” Giddey said, “We leading from the front the whole way. We controlled the pace, and we set the tone early on, and that was good. It’s a step in the right direction for us in terms of coming out the gates early and ready to play.”