Following a three-game absence, the Oklahoma City Thunder welcomed Josh Giddey back from the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and what a return it was.
Oklahoma City’s point-forward, who turned 19 on Oct. 10, 2021, became the youngest NBA player to record a triple-double in the Thunder’s 95-86 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night. Along with achieving the record, which was previously held by Charlotte Hornets’ point-guard LaMelo Ball, Giddey also garnered a career-high assists with 14, breaking the Thunder’s record for most assists recorded by a rookie.
For Giddey, however, the record was not on his mind when he was on the floor. With star point-guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (COVID-19 protocols), shooting-guard Lu Dort (knee soreness), forward Darius Bazley (COVID-19 protocols) and rookie point-guard Tre Mann (COVID-19 protocols) all missing, he had to quarterback the team offensively. Ultimately, despite falling short of the victory, Giddey finished the game with a team-leading 17 points on 7-of-16 attempts, 13 rebounds, 14 assists and four steals.
The Melbourne native is the youngest player since Mavericks forward Luka Doncic, his opponent in tonight’s matchup, to lead all players on his team in points, rebounds and assists during a game.
“It’s cool,” Giddey said after the game. “As I have said earlier in the year, the individual stats are good, and you enjoy it for the night. But, a win is always better than individual stats for me. If I would’ve had (no statistics) and we won I’d be more happy than if I have a triple-double and we lose. It’s always been that way for me, but it’s a cool milestone.”
Defensively, Oklahoma City had a tough task going up against the Mavericks offense led by Doncic, who returned for his first game from the health and safety protocols. The Mavericks forward finished with 14 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Despite notching the game-clinching assist to center Maxi Kleber, who hit a top-of-the-key jumper with 22.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Thunder forward Aaron Wiggins helped limit the Mavericks’ star on offense.
Wiggins finished the matchup with 10 points and six rebounds, but his perimeter defense was the most important attribute on the defensive end of the floor.
“You can watch as much film (on Doncic) as you want,” Wiggins said. “The guy plays the game so comfortably and… it was just a matter of staying consistent with my efforts – defensively fighting over screens, trying to stay in front of him, and making him just a little bit uncomfortable. … There’s only so much you can do with great players like him, so I gave it my best effort and you know it was a pretty good job defensively as a team.
After being down 76-64, the Thunder made a momentous push to bring the game within four points with just above a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Dallas did not relent to the Thunder’s offensive pressure, brought along by Giddey and power-forward Isaiah Roby – who finished with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting – pushing the score back to nine points at the end of the game.
Still, missing too many key players, the Thunder lost in a hard-fought game to the Mavericks. While Wiggins and Giddey were taking turns grabbing rebounds, leaving Oklahoma City’s desperate for the record, Wiggins described the moment between the two, much like head coach Mark Daigneault has in the past, as “skittles,” jargon for just another media narrative.
As Oklahoma City pivots to its matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves at 7 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Jan. 5 in Minneapolis interim head coach – in place of Daigneault, who is out in the health and safety protocol – Mike Wilks is preaching effort to his team.
“We continue to preach to our guys, professionalism and growing through experience,” Wilks said. ”I think our guys embrace it. … They came out and they performed tonight.”