Feb. 22—The rust Shai Gilgeous-Alexander showed in his first two games back from a knee injury was gone by Sunday night in Cleveland.
Gilgeous-Alexander tormented the Cavaliers at every level — at the rim, in the midrange and from behind the arc — in the Thunder’s comfortable 117-101 win.
He shot 9-of-15 from the floor and 3-of-3 from 3-point range for 31 points, nine assists and four rebounds. He finished two points shy of tying his career high.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t look like himself offensively Friday night in a loss at Milwaukee, but on Sunday the third-year guard was at his best.
“Like himself tonight,” Daigneault said. “He was cruising. He played with an unbelievable pace all the way throughout. Never got sped up, never forced, found a great balance throughout the game.”
Here are four other takeaways from the game:
The Cavaliers led the Thunder 22-15 with three minutes left in the first quarter, and that’s when OKC’s bench took over — aided by Gilgeous-Alexander, the lone starter on the floor.
The Thunder finished the quarter on a 16-6 run, with seven of those points coming from backup guard Hamidou Diallo.
It foreshadowed a strong night from the Thunder’s second unit.
“I thought the tone of the game changed when they came in there,” Daigneault said. “They were just kinda gritty on the defensive end of the floor and I thought that got us out on the break a little bit and they really moved it and shared it. They kind of got the game under control for us.”
The Thunder outscored the Cavaliers 42-9 in bench points.
“They were huge,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of the bench. “They brought energy, played with pace, really guarded and got out in transition. But we’ve seen that from our second unit throughout the whole season.
“They might not be the most talented guys in the league, but they play hard, play together and make you work. Hats off to them.”
Diallo led the bench scoring with 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting.
“I feel like we have a really solid bench,” Diallo said. “We just try to make sure that we take care of business and try to either build a lead or pick the first unit up as well.”
Gilgeous-Alexander, Mike Muscala and Theo Maledon all made three 3-pointers each. Combined, they made more 3-pointers than the Cavs did as a team.
Cleveland shot 8-of-35 (23%) from 3-point range. OKC was an efficient 13-of-28 (46%) — which was a season-high in 3-point percentage.
Playing above the rim
Cleveland center Jarrett Allen compiled an incredible stat line against the Thunder. Allen scored 26 points with 17 rebounds and three blocks. The most impressive part? He shot 11-of-11 from the field.
The Cavaliers got good production from their young core of Allen and guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. All three notched 20-point games, but the rest of their teammates were quiet.
Sexton, Gilgeous-Alexander and Diallo were all in the same 2018 draft class. Sexton went eighth, Gilgeous-Alexander went 11th and Diallo went 45th.
They played against each other in the SEC. Gilgeous-Alexander and Diallo were Kentucky teammates and Sexton played at Alabama.
“It was fun,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Collin’s a competitor, a really good player and a young guy in this league that’s getting better as well.”
Maledon, earning another start in place of the injured George Hill, scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He shot 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
It was a good day for the Thunder’s rookies — one in Cleveland, and one in Orlando.
Aleksej Pokusevski, playing for the OKC Blue in the G League bubble, had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists Sunday in a win against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.