SI:AM | Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Steps Up As Thunder Tie Series vs. Mavericks

He took over in the fourth quarter.
SGA carried OKC to a Game 4 win to even the series vs. Dallas.
SGA carried OKC to a Game 4 win to even the series vs. Dallas. / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I can’t believe Luka Dončić missed that free throw in the closing seconds.

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SGA powers OKC to victory

The Oklahoma City Thunder came into Monday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks in a difficult position, trailing 2–1 in the series and needing a victory on the road to even it up. It wasn’t easy, but thanks to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder came away with a 100–96 victory to tie the series and regain home-court advantage.

OKC trailed by 14 points with 10 minutes left in the third quarter—and that’s when Gilgeous-Alexander took over. He had 22 points, five assists, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals from that point forward as the Thunder out-scored the Mavs by 18 points. But he really shined in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting with four assists. His best bucket of the night was this fadeaway from behind that backboard that tied the game with four minutes left to play.

“He was unbelievable,” Dallas star Luka Dončić said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “He kept making shots, and maybe at some point we got to send double-teams. He’s just too good.”

As great as Gilgeous-Alexander was, the Mavericks could have easily won the game if they had been better in one obvious area: free throws. Dallas was a lousy 12-for-23 from the line (compared to 23-for-24 for the Thunder), and especially bad in the second half as the game slipped away, making just nine of 19 attempts from the line. And the issues at the charity stripe plagued the whole team—even Dončić. With 10 seconds left in the game, Dončić drew a foul and headed to the line with a chance to tie the game but missed the first shot. Although he hit the second shot to cut the deficit to one, the miss still forced the Mavs to foul to try to get the ball back, and, unfortunately for Dallas, Chet Holmgren knocked them both down. Dallas’s luck at the free-throw line was so bad that when P.J. Washington needed to miss a free throw with three seconds left on the clock to give the Mavs any chance of getting the ball back, the ball actually went in the basket. It was that kind of night for Dallas.

Dončić had a triple double (18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) but it was still an off night for him. In addition to the big missed free throw, he was a disappointing 6-for-20 from the floor (including 2-of-9 from three) and turned the ball over seven times, his most in a game this postseason.

Kyrie Irving was also held in check, scoring just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting (although he did add nine assists). Irving and Dončić were a fantastic one-two punch for the Mavs offensively in the regular season, averaging a combined 59.5 points per game, but through four games against the Thunder, they’re averaging a combined 37 points per game. Washington, who averaged 11.7 points per game in the regular season after being acquired in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets, is second on the Mavs with 21.8 points per game in the series thanks to some torrid three-point shooting. He shot .314 from three in the regular season but has hit 19 of 37 attempts (.514) in the series. Dončić said he thought OKC did a good job stifling him and Irving on offense and that it’s imperative for them to get other people involved if they want to win the series.

“I think there’s a focus on us,” Dončić said. “When we both drive it, they collapse the paint, almost five guys. So I think that’s been difficult for us. We’ve just got to find open teammates.”

After breezing through the first round against the New Orleans Pelicans, this series against the Mavericks has proved to be a real test for the Thunder. It was fair to wonder how a team as young as OKC would react to playoff adversity, but bouncing back against the Mavs in Game 4 to tie the series was the kind of win you’d expect from a championship-caliber team.

Sep 24, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Mike Tyson poses for a photo
Tyson is set to return to the ring this summer. / Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

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1. This angle from the stands of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s clutch shot.


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Dan Gartland

DAN GARTLAND

Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).