Shai Gilgeous-Alexander rallies Thunder to Game 4 win vs. Mavs

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The stakes of Game 4 weighed heavily on Oklahoma City superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all day Monday. The Thunder trailed the Dallas Mavericks 2-1 in their Western Conference semifinal series, making this game crucial. Gilgeous-Alexander, a 25-year-old player, called it “probably the most meaningful game I’ve played in my career.” Despite the pressure, he didn’t feel overwhelmed when he checked back into the game after a short rest with 9:30 remaining, and the Mavericks leading by six points. He was determined to stay calm and not force his plays, something he admitted to doing in their Game 3 loss.

“Be aggressive, but be smart,” Gilgeous-Alexander reminded himself.

In the end, his balance of aggression and intelligence paid off, leading Oklahoma City to a series-tying 100-96 win at the American Airlines Center. He played a critical role, scoring or assisting on 20 of the Thunder’s final 30 points.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with an impressive stat line: 34 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. In the fourth quarter alone, he scored 10 points and dished out 4 assists, taking control of the game with a series of midrange jumpers. When Dallas’s defense focused on him, he found his teammates for key shots.

“There’s some points in the game I’m doing the same thing you guys are doing — just kind of being a fan of what he’s doing and, when some of those shots go in, just kind of making a face like, ‘That’s crazy,'” said Thunder center Chet Holmgren, who contributed 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks. “But he’s been doing it all year. I’ve seen him do it since I got here, and that’s just who he is. Tough-shot maker, but he does a lot more out there for us than just that.”

Gilgeous-Alexander scored on four consecutive Oklahoma City possessions in the fourth, starting with a driving floater with 5:59 remaining.

The shots in that sequence got increasingly more difficult, capped by a 10-foot baseline fadeaway that he had to loft over the top corner of the backboard, tying the game when it splashed through the net with 4:02 remaining.

“That was ill-advised, but you just trust your work,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, whose team trailed by as many as 14 points and struggled to score against a swarming Dallas defense until putting up 35 points in the fourth quarter.

Gilgeous-Alexander, who was 14-of-27 from the floor, did most of his scoring from midrange. According to Second Spectrum, he went 12-of-16 on midrange shots, matching LaMarcus Aldridge for the most midrange buckets made in a playoff game over the past decade. It also was the most midrange shots made by a player in any game — regular season or playoffs — over the past two seasons.

“He was unbelievable,” Mavs superstar Luka Doncic said. “He kept making shots, and maybe at some point we got to send double-teams. He’s just too good.”

Four Mavericks surrounded Gilgeous-Alexander in the paint when he drove the next possession late in the fourth. He passed the ball out to a wide-open Holmgren in the right corner — as Doncic helped on Gilgeous-Alexander — for the go-ahead 3 with 3:24 left.

A couple of possessions later, Gilgeous-Alexander again drew four Dallas defenders into the paint and fed a teammate for another wide-open 3. Luguentz Dort, who had missed 10 of his first 13 shots, made this one to stretch OKC’s lead to four with 2:14 remaining.

“He obviously took that thing by the horns there late, but he had an unbelievable blend and really found his teammates on a lot of plays,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “And continued to find them. The shot Chet hit, the shot Lu hit that he sprayed to them — that’s him passing the ball in critical time. Down 2-1 in the fourth quarter, and the team is shooting 20-something percent from 3, that’s just unbelievable trust and confidence for him to rise to that in that moment. And for a young, ambitious star player, I was blown away by those plays.”

This moment was what Gilgeous-Alexander had been building toward in his six-year NBA career, now playing in his third postseason but first as the face of the Thunder.

“There’s a balance that you get to find,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “When to attack, when to pass, when to make the right play, when to not make the right play and trust your skill. It’s something that I battle with a lot and try to be really good at, and a lot of great players battle with it and try to be really good at it.

“But ultimately, it just comes down to, for the most part, taking what the defense gives you and trusting your teammates. You need ’em to win at a high level. That’s clear as day, and I want to win at a high level, so I have no option.”

While Gilgeous-Alexander shined, the Dallas superstars struggled to score. Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined for 27 points on 10-of-31 shooting, their lowest-scoring outing as a duo since Dallas acquired Irving at the 2023 trade deadline.

Doncic had a chance to tie the game at the free throw line with 10 seconds remaining, but he missed his first attempt. Dallas made only 12 of 23 free throws, compared to 23-of-24 for Oklahoma City.

“It’s unacceptable,” said Doncic, who had 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. “We got to be better.”

Doncic, who is dealing with a sprained right knee and a sore left ankle, finished with more turnovers (seven) than field goals (6-of-20 shooting). Irving registered nine points for the second time in the series after being held to a single-digit scoring total only once previously in a playoff game.

Doncic and Irving are combining to average only 37.0 points per game in the series, a drop of 22.5 points from their regular-season production.

“They put you in a lot of tough binds, and I think we’ve had good grit the whole time,” Thunder forward Jalen Williams said. “Just kind of stick with what we want to do defensively and just live at some of the results. But it’s a tough task, so it takes a village to guard guys like that.”

Overall, Gilgeous-Alexander’s performance was crucial for the Thunder’s win and their efforts to stay in the series. His ability to balance scoring and playmaking while trusting his teammates showed his growth as a player and leader. The Thunder will need more of this as they continue their playoff journey.

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