Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s quiet excellence powers OKC past Lakers

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s quiet excellence powers OKC past Lakers

A slew of Thunder players pitched in to power OKC past the Lakers on Thursday. So many, in fact, that it was easy to lose sight of the man who makes it all go.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Dec 1, 2023, 6:54am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Dec 1, 2023, 6:54am CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — Mark Daigneault had been asked about a second-quarter spark that got his Thunder going in a 133-110 win Thursday night against the Lakers. 

The OKC coach had been asked about Jalen Williams’ offense and the Thunder’s solid rebounding effort and about the Chet Holmgren-Anthony Davis matchup. 

Valid questions, every one. 

But six minutes into his postgame news conference, Daigneault hadn’t been asked — and hadn’t said a word — about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the first-team All-NBA guard who’d scored 33 points in a blowout win over the NBA’s glamour franchise.  

That’s how routine this sort of night has become for Gilgeous-Alexander. 

The 25-year-old has scored 30 or more points in 12 of his 17 games this season. He’s fifth in the NBA in scoring at 30.6 points per game. 

And sometimes we barely even notice. 

“No matter what happens — you might only remember him maybe missing four shots in a row or something — and then at the end of the game, you look up and he has 30,” Holmgren said. “It’s like no matter what happens, whether he makes it look easy — which he does a lot of nights — or whether the defense is really tough on him, you look up and, you know, he’s Shai.” 

When Daigneault eventually was asked about Gilgeous-Alexander, he talked about the “invisible work” that goes into the guard’s excellence, about the investment in the team that sets him apart. 

It’s not just that Gilgeous-Alexander can stick a tough turnaround jumper over LeBron James. It’s that on his low-intensity practice days, when players further down the roster are getting in heavier work, he’ll rebound for them. 

It’s the way he shows up early to the practice facility. The way he’s improved his defense to the point that he leads the NBA in steals at 2.3 per game. 

Earlier this week, Interview Magazine ran a chat between Gilgeous-Alexander and Kim Kardashian in which he told one of the world’s most famous women about his lack of a skincare routine and his habit of eating an apple before every game. 

On Thursday, he was just one of the guys, lacerating the Lakers during the game and lauding his teammates after it. 

“There’s a gravity that pulls great players away from the team,” Daigneault said. “That’s just a natural force in the NBA, and if you want to be a part of the team, it has to be intentional when you’re on his level. And to his credit, he’s intentional and he plugs back in every single day.” 

His reasons why are simple.  

“Two things,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I really like my teammates. Like, genuinely. The group of guys is a special group of guys, and I enjoy being around them. And then I prioritize winning, and you can’t win alone. I need every one of those guys to get done what I want to get done with the basketball game.”

He did a lot against the Lakers. 

And he had a lot of help in OKC’s emphatic snapping of its two-game losing streak. 

When Los Angeles jumped out to a 14-point first-quarter lead, Gilgeous-Alexander kept the Thunder (12-6) afloat, scoring 16 points in the game’s opening 12 minutes. 

But it was Williams who sparked the Thunder’s comeback, scoring nine of his 21 points during a second quarter in which OKC outscored the Lakers 42-23. 

Holmgren chipped in 18 points, five rebounds and two steals, and though Davis got the better of him in the first quarter — outscoring the rookie 15-2 — Holmgren found his offensive rhythm as the game wore on. 

Isaiah Joe scored 10 points for the Thunder and played perhaps his most complete defensive game of the season, finishing with five defensive rebounds and three blocks, including a fourth-quarter weakside swat of a Davis dunk that ignited a fast break. 

Lu Dort capped it with a 3-pointer that put the Thunder in front 123-105 with 4:02 to play. A Laker timeout followed, and coach Darvin Ham cleared his bench. 

Daigneault called it “an energy, work win” for the Thunder. 

And in that sea of contributors, it’s easy to lose sight of just how good Gilgeous-Alexander was. 

His final line, to go with those 33 points: four rebounds, seven assists, a steal, 11-of-18 shooting. He made all 10 of his free throws. 

It’s like that almost every night. 

And though the NBA season hasn’t yet reached its first-quarter mark, it seems not too soon to say that any early MVP discussion has to include SGA. 

To whatever extent that conversation exists, Gilgeous-Alexander has played his way into it. 

Even if we don’t always talk about it. 

“It’s easy to take for granted, but we don’t do that,” Holmgren said. “We know the type of player he is and type of guy he is, and we’re happy to have him.”

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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