The first game of a two-game set between the host Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers figured to be mostly about Damian Lillard’s ascension to the top of the Trail Blazers’ all-time scoring list.
It was that, but it was also the latest in a series of signs that Thunder point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is elevating his game to star level.
After Gilgeous-Alexander hit a game-winner at the buzzer to give Oklahoma City a 123-121 victory Monday, the Trail Blazers and Thunder meet again Wednesday, also in Oklahoma City.
Gilgeous-Alexander comes into the game third in the NBA in scoring at 31.3 points per game, behind only Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic.
Gilgeous-Alexander has scored 35 or more points 10 times this season, including in each of his last two games. He had four such games in his first four NBA seasons.
“He’s impressive,” Lillard said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “He’s obviously a really good player. Not just a good young player. He’s coming into his own. I can remember when I was younger and I became the leader of a team, and I was basically introducing myself as the lead guard on the team, and I was going after it, you know, being aggressive.
“And I see that he’s in that state. He’s trying to show what he can do.”
Oklahoma City went 1-5 during Kenrich Williams’ absence with a right knee sprain. The Thunder have won both games since Williams’ return, to move to 2-2 to begin a season-long seven-game homestand.
In the closing minutes of Monday’s game, Williams was on the floor alongside Luguentz Dort, giving Oklahoma City a pair of strong defenders against Portland’s backcourt duo of Lillard and Anfernee Simons.
“I try to be that spark plug, whether that’s defensively or trying to junk the game up on offense,” Williams said. “That’s what we need as a team, somebody to get us going. I feel like that’s my calling card. I’m gonna ride with it.”
The Trail Blazers have alternated wins and losses in the first four games of their six-game road trip.
While Lillard showed plenty of respect for Gilgeous-Alexander’s growth, Thunder coach Mark Daigneault reciprocated those feelings toward Lillard.
“I think the thing that is most impressive to me about him is the respect that he has — authentic, with integrity — from his peers,” Daigneault said. “There’s guys around the NBA, not to mention any names, that when you unpack the people that played with them, against them for a long period of time, it’s a little bit dicey.
“And he’s just never one of those guys. The guys in the league just respect him as a real dude, that’s a real winner, that has real toughness, that’s a real team guy.”
The Thunder’s Josh Giddey has missed the last two games with a non-COVID illness, while Darius Bazley has missed the last three for the same reason. Both were ruled out for Wednesday.
Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic missed Monday’s game with right calf soreness. He is listed as questionable.
–Field Level Media