Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a top-five NBA player, as the Celtics learned Tuesday night. The Thunder defeated the Celtics 127-123 at home to stop their six-game win run. OKC led Boston 40-25 in the third quarter. The C's fourth-quarter rally failed.
Gilgeous-Alexander scored the game-high 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting, seven assists, six rebounds, and one steal in 37 minutes.
The great point guard controlled the game, even against Celtics guards Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, two of the NBA's best defenders. According to league monitoring statistics, Gilgeous-Alexander shot 6-of-9 against Holiday and 4-of-6 against White. Rarely does one player dominate those two guards.
Gilgeous-Alexander said, "I work really hard," in his postgame news conference. "In moments like these, I work out like the finest defender in the world and feel protected. I work hard because I know the league, clubs, and players are good."
The Celtics switched Tatum to Gilgeous-Alexander in the fourth quarter. The OKC star went 1-of-4 and scored three points in the fourth quarter (all free throws) while guarded by Tatum.
“I thought we stayed square (on Gilgeous-Alexander),” Mazzulla said of Boston's fourth-quarter defense. We didn't give him basket looks, which is difficult since it's every possession. So I think we fared better in Q4. We rose slightly, kept square, and avoided angles. If we did, we had people at the rim and made several efforts.”
Tatum's length may have affected Gilgeous-Alexander, but he found the open guy, including two assists on Chet Holmgren 3-pointers. "Tatum used his size well. Bigger. Not much changes for me. I play aggressively, make good basketball plays, and use my talents."
Maybe Tuesday's game was a preview of the 2024 NBA Finals. The Thunder (23-9) sit one game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for Western Conference first place, while the Celtics (26-7) top the Eastern Conference and NBA standings. These clubs will meet again on April 3 at TD Garden in Boston. It'll be a great late-season test for both teams before the playoffs.
Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis told reporters postgame, “That’s a talented young team.” “I don't think this was a fluke for them. They're playing well. They top the West, no? A great squad to play against and a great experience.”