A Heck of a Homecoming for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Returning to your home town isn't always the wild welcome party we want it to be. For Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, not only did he get the welcome home we all wish for, it came with a video tribute to him and Thunder guard Lou Dort. Both Dort and Gilgeous-Alexander will play for Team Canada in the upcoming Olympic Games. When July rolls around, Canadians will join voices and root for the second year rising star, but on Sunday, they most likely wish he would have been anywhere else but Toronto.
Gilgeous-Alexander lit up the Raptors for 32, helping the Thunder to a 98-97 shorthanded win. The most important of those 32 came with 36 seconds left when Gilgeous-Alexander went to the rim and hit a layup, giving the Thunder a one-point lead that would stick.
It was a nip and tuck game that featured 20 lead changes and 10 ties. Chris Paul continues to be clutch as well; with 1:01 left, Paul went in for a layup only to have it blocked. Paul would twist, turn, and take two steps back before nailing a turn around fade-away, giving Oklahoma City a 96-95 lead. But it was a lead that wouldn't last; Fred VanVleet would hit two free-throws after a Terrance Ferguson foul that put the Raptors up one. It was on the next possession that Gilgeous-Alexander hit his game-winning shot.
With no Danilo Gallinari or Dennis Schroder, the Thunder needed every bit of help they could get. Rookie Darius Bazley, who was making his third straight start, obliged, scoring 12 points including a new career-high four three-pointers.
Gilgeous-Alexander, Paul, Gallinari, and Schroder are proving to be a dynamic core that can beat any team in the NBA on a given night. More than that, the Thunder are also getting essential play from others on the roster, showing the depth that has been lacking in the last three years. This is not only a credit to Sam Presti, who made some shrewd moves this summer; it's a credit to Paul's unselfish attitude that allows his teammates to flourish.
Oklahoma City has won six of its last seven games, including the last two on the road. The Thunder returns home on New Year's Eve to face the Mavericks. Game time is at seven on Fox Sports Oklahoma.