Thunder gets 'good gut check' as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads OKC past Atlanta Hawks

ATLANTA — The recipe from Saturday night in Minneapolis worked so well that the Thunder ran it back 48 hours later in Atlanta.

The Thunder, behind another fourth-quarter surge, beat the Hawks 121-114.

“It was a good gut check tonight,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said.

The Thunder (11-13), steps slow and fractions off in the first half, trailed by four points heading into the fourth quarter, just as it did against the Timberwolves.

The start of the fourth quarter was deja vu, with a non-SGA unit not only staying afloat, but taking a lead by the time Gilgeous-Alexander reentered midway through the fourth quarter.

OKC had turned a four-point deficit into a three-point lead by the time its star checked back in.

Josh Giddey, who had 17 points, drained a deep 3-pointer to beat the shot clock to give the Thunder a 96-92 lead with 6:30 to play.

“Felt good,” Giddey said.

“I knew it was going in,” SGA added.

One minute later, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl hit another 3-pointer to maintain a cushion.

The Hawks gave the Thunder a scare in the last two minutes, but Gilgeous-Alexander stabilized the game with a big transition dunk and repeated trips to the free throw line.

The Thunder went 15-of-15 from the foul line in the fourth quarter and 23-of-24 for the game.

OKC has won three straight games, and it’s off to a 2-0 start on this five-game road trip.

“I think we’re just getting better, individually and together,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.

More:Why isn't Aaron Wiggins playing more for OKC Thunder? 'He’s always ready'

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey shoots against Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey shoots against Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

SGA’s awfully good off night

It didn’t look like SGA’s night through two and a half quarters, and still he finished with 35 points (10-of-22 shooting), six rebounds and five assists.

That’s what “off nights” look like for superstars.

Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t get to the free throw line in the first half. He lived there in the second half, going 15-of-15.

“Free points,” SGA said. “I try not to seek them too much, just play aggressive basketball.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get there in the first half, and I knew that going into halftime.”

SGA shot 1-of-2 from the field and 10-of-10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.

The combination of not only drawing fouls, but paying them off at a 93% mark has elevated SGA from a dangerous scorer to a lethal one.

“I think that’s a sign of a good player, there’s like a reliable source of offense,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “And I think it’s a sign of a good team.”

Gilgeous-Alexander was facing a dynamic Hawks backcourt duo in Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, both of whom have made an All-Star game — Murray once and Young twice.

But Gilgeous-Alexander was the best guard on the floor, and it wasn’t particularly close.

More:OKC Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren to have planned, follow-up foot surgery

Ousmane Dieng’s career game

Thunder rookie Ousmane Dieng drilled a 3-pointer, and on the Thunder’s next possession, Dieng ran the floor and flushed a transition dunk.

It was a nice third-quarter sequence and a nice overall game for the 19-year-old Frenchman.

Dieng scored a career-high 15 points in 19 minutes off the bench.

He shot 3-of-4 from 3-point range.

“I’m still working on my shot with Chip (Engelland), but I’m always confident,” Dieng said. “If I’m open, I’m going to take a shot.”

Dieng looks more comfortable since returning from a long G League stint.

“I think that gave me confidence,” Dieng said. “More minutes, more reps.”

More:Thunder vs. Spurs: Five takeaways from OKC's comeback win over San Antonio

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort fouls Atlanta Hawks guard Jarrett Culver during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort fouls Atlanta Hawks guard Jarrett Culver during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

Local drama against Trae Young's Hawks

This wasn’t an ordinary Monday night game in Atlanta. A controversy around Norman’s own Trae Young overshadowed the game, at least locally.

On Sunday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported friction between Young and Hawks coach Nate McMillan.

According to Charania, Young and McMillan had an exchange at shootaround last Friday which led to Young not attending the Hawks’ home win against the Nuggets.

“It’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now,” Young told reporters before the game against the Thunder.

Young was asked why he wasn’t at the Hawks’ game against the Nuggets.

“It’s hard for people who don’t know the full situation to understand it,” Young said.

McMillan opened his pregame press conference with a statement about the situation and Charania’s report.

“Things happen with our players on the bus, on the plane, in hotels. We’re together a lot,” McMillan said. “We’re a family. Things are going to happen in the course of the season. I addressed the team about that, I talked to Trae about that. We’re moving forward.”

Young was off Monday night. He shot just 6-of-19 from the floor, including 1-of-7 from the 3-point line.

Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 24 points.

More:Instant analysis: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder snap losing streak vs. Timberwolves

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives past Hawks guard Jarrett Culver for a dunk in the the second half of a 121-114 win Monday night in Atlanta.
Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives past Hawks guard Jarrett Culver for a dunk in the the second half of a 121-114 win Monday night in Atlanta.

Thunder tip-ins

Kenrich Williams (right knee sprain) was out for the Thunder. Williams suffered the injury late in the game Saturday at Minnesota. “Don’t see it as a very long-term thing,” Daigneault said. “Little bit of soreness, little bit of swelling.”

John Collins (left ankle sprain), De’Andre Hunter (right hip flexor strain) and Trent Forrest (concussion protocol) were out for the Hawks.

Former Thunder Vit Krejci played 11 minutes for the Hawks.

Krejci, a second-round pick of the Thunder’s in 2020, missed his first NBA season while rehabbing from an ACL injury, and he struggled to stay healthy. He played in 30 games for the Thunder last season, making eight starts.

• “We’re proud that his initial rehab and getting himself on the court happened under our roof,” Daigneault said of Krejci. “Happy to see him on his feet, playing and contributing to a team.”

It was the Thunder’s first win in Atlanta since 2018.

Dejounte Murray is apparently going by “DJ” these days.

Darius Bazley, Eugene Omoruyi and Jaylin Williams did not play (coach’s decision). It was Bazley’s first DNP (coach’s decision) of the season.

Aaron Wiggins, who’s struggled to find steady playing time, logged 13 minutes off the bench.

Mike Muscala played for the first time in two weeks, when he broke his pinky. Muscala scored five points in 14 minutes.

Aleksej Pokusevski was 0-of-4 from 3-point range. He’s missed his last nine 3-point attempts.

Luguentz Dort had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but he shot just 4-of-16.

Isaiah Joe shot 3-of-4 from 3-point range. He’s 23-of-50 (46%) for the season.

More:OKC Thunder: TCU alum Kenrich Williams 'locked in' for Big 12 Championship game

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads OKC Thunder past Atlanta Hawks