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

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DALLAS — The stakes of Game 4 weighed on Oklahoma City superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all day Monday as he waited for the 8:30 tipoff with the Thunder trailing the Dallas Mavericks in their Western Conference semifinal series 2-1.

The 25-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander called it “probably the most meaningful game I’ve played in my career,” but he said he didn’t feel pressure when he checked back into the game after a brief rest with 9:30 remaining and the Mavs leading by six points. Gilgeous-Alexander was poised, prepared to seize the moment, but also conscious of not forcing the issue, as he said he had late in the Thunder’s Game 3 loss here.

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

The MVP finalist found that balance down the stretch to lead Oklahoma City to a series-tying 100-96 win at the American Airlines Center, scoring or assisting on 20 of the Thunder’s final 30 points.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 34 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. He scored 10 points and dished out 4 assists in the fourth quarter, taking over the game with a series of midrange jumpers off isolations then feeding his teammates for the game’s biggest shots when Dallas’ defense collapsed on him.

“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 tallied 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, beginning 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 the vast majority of his damage 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 kicked the ball out to a wide-open Holmgren in the right corner — as Doncic sold out to help 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 misfired on 10 of his first 13 shots, swished 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.”

It’s the kind of occasion that Gilgeous-Alexander, playing in his third postseason but first as the face of the Thunder, has been building toward over his six-year NBA career.

“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’ series-long scoring struggles reached a new low. 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.

“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.’ 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.”

Chet Holmgren on Thunder teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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, as 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.”

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