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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Gave The Bucks All They Could Handle

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates a late basket in the fourth quarter at Paycom Center on November 09, 2022 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Ian Maule/Getty Images

The prospect of watching a short-handed Milwaukee Bucks team, missing Giannis Antetokoumpo and Jrue Holiday, go up against the 4-6 Oklahoma City Thunder is no one’s idea of a fun Wednesday night, at least on paper. Thankfully for those who tuned in, though, the Thunder have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is in full fireball mode so far this season.

For the season so far, Gilgeous-Alexander is playing not just like OKC’s best player, and not just like a potential all-star, but one of the very best offensive players in the league. He’s averaging 31.6 points per game on a 53/32/94 slash line. He’s also leading the league in drives per game, with 24.8 per game. This is not a new pinnacle for him, either; he led the league in that category the last two season as well. On the other end of the court, he has similarly been a demon, ranking seventh in the league in steals (1.9) and 12th in blocks (1.5) per game. With Chet Holmgren out of the picture, Gilgeous-Alexander has provided the Thunder with all of its must-see TV potential, and he was back at it again on Wednesday against Milwaukee.

While Gilgeous-Alexander did his part in the first three quarters, dropping in 19 points with some playmaking on top, it was really in the fourth quarter of this tighter-than-anticipated matchup that he got to work. Throughout that quarter the 24-year-old flummoxed the Bucks with a healthy dose of drives into the lane, concluding in a floater, a dunk, and a layup. He added a step-back three with three-and-a-half minutes left that kept the Thunder in striking range after a horrid start to the quarter.

In all, Gilgeous-Alexander had 13 points in the fourth. The Thunder had trailed by 11 with just under five minutes left to play, but the game was tied up following a Lu Dort dunk with 54 seconds remaining. That set the stage for the first overtime, which admittedly was not Gilgeous-Alexander’s best five minutes of basketball. He went 1-4 in the free basketball, missing a layup, a pull-up in the paint, and yet another layup, this time in heavy traffic. In short, he was trying to do too much, and it wasn’t working, until it did.

The one basket Gilgeous-Alexander did make in the first overtime was his biggest of the night: With 8.1 seconds left, he received the ball close to the logo with Wes Matthews in his face. Remember all those drives into the paint? Even though they did not end in points, Gilgeous-Alexander was able to use the threat of barreling in for the tying score to juke Matthews into backpedaling, then hit him with the step-back three that put the Thunder up one with 0.6 seconds left.

This should have been the dagger, a game-winner befitting of the season that Gilgeous-Alexander has had so far, but Dort stupidly fouled Brook Lopez on the inbound alley-oop attempt, giving the big man the chance to win the game. Lopez didn’t, missing the first free throw but hitting the second to send it to another period of ovetime. By then, Gilgeous-Alexander was out of steam, missing all three of his shots from the field as the Bucks finally pulled away for their 10th win of the season, by the score of 136-132.

Even in a loss against the best team in the NBA, minus two of its best players, the Thunder as a whole and Gilgeous-Alexander in particular acquitted themselves well. For the night, the Canadian ended up with 39 points, four assists, four rebounds, two blocks, and that almost-game-winner. After a subpar performance in Milwaukee on Saturday, Gilgeous-Alexander bounced back well enough to show the title contending Bucks what he’s got in the bag. He’s been doing it all season, but seeing him take over in the fourth quarter on Wednesday was a reminder for those who might have tuned in after seeing the score closer than expected: He’s for real, and he deserves all of the accolades that are sure to come his way this season if he keeps up his torrid form.