Published March 23, 2024

Gilgeous-Alexander powers Thunder past injury-plagued Raptors 123-103

Men playing basketball
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives past Toronto Raptors guard Jahmi'us Ramsey (37) during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Friday, March 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander grew up watching "NBA legends" at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena. It's arguable he's on his way to becoming one himself.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 23 points with eight assists and seven rebounds as the Oklahoma City Thunder rolled past the hurting Toronto Raptors 123-103 on Friday.

"I grew up coming to games here, watching Chris Bosh and a bunch of NBA legends playing in this building," said Gilgeous-Alexander. "It's always a surreal moment.

"Having my friends and family in the crowd is even more special."

Gilgeous-Alexander entered the game averaging 30.9 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game for Oklahoma City (48-20). He's shooting 54.4 per cent on his field-goal attempts — making him the most accurate guard in the NBA — and his two steals per game are the most in the league.

He was officially given the Northern Star Award as Canada's best athlete in 2023 on Friday morning. A panel of sports media from across the country selected Gilgeous-Alexander as the award's winner in December but he wasn't able to actually receive the trophy until the Thunder's one and only trip north of the border this season. 

Chet Holmgren had a double-double with 18 points and 10 boards as Oklahoma City (49-20) won its fourth straight. Jalen Williams added 20 points and Montreal's Lu Dort scored 10.

Rookie Gradey Dick led Toronto (23-47) with 21 points. Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops, B.C., had 16 points, six rebounds and five assists as the ailing Raptors dropped their ninth game in a row.

Toronto allowed season-highs of 27 turnovers and 37 points off of turnovers.

"We want to win games, that’s the No. 1 priority," said Dick. "But with me being the rookie and the new guy I’m thankful to be out there competing every night and just try my best to try to put us in position to win and do my part."

Gary Trent Jr. was ruled out of Toronto's lineup before the game with lower back stiffness. His absence added to a long list of inactive Raptors players, including Toronto's entire starting lineup.

The Raptors were already missing forward Scottie Barnes (left hand fracture), centre Jakob Poeltl (left hand torn ligament), forward-guard RJ Barrett (personal reasons), point guard Immanuel Quickley (personal reasons), forward Chris Boucher (partial MCL tear), and guard D.J. Carton (right ankle sprain).

"In my 26, 27 years of coaching, I never saw anything like it," said Toronto head coach Darko Rajakovic of his team's raft of injuries. "I don't think I saw it on other teams either."

Although it seemed like a mismatch on paper, Dick scored eight points in the first six minutes of the game for an 11-point lead. Toronto closed out the opening period on a 6-2 run to hold a 35-28 lead.

Dick scored 13 points in the quarter, a career high in his first NBA season.

The Thunder fired back with a 15-2 run to open the second and take the lead. The visitors outscored Toronto 35-21 in the second quarter with Williams getting eight to help Oklahoma City carry a 63-56 advantage into intermission.

Dick drained a deep 25-foot three-pointer just 40 seconds into the fourth to the delight of the 19,601 fans at Scotiabank Arena and cut the Thunder's lead to 10. It started a 10-3 run that reeled OKC in to just a six-point advantage.

Williams helped Oklahoma City re-extend its lead, scoring six in the quarter as the Thunder held on for the victory. 

NO COMMITMENT, NO COMMENT — Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort and Olynyk are all part of the core of 14 players who committed to represent Canada internationally, first at the FIBA men's World Cup and then again this summer at the Paris Olympics. Several Canadian NBAers, including Denver guard Jamal Murray, Indiana guard Andrew Nembhard and Golden State forward Andrew Wiggins, did not sign on to play for Canada. Gilgeous-Alexander offered no comment when asked if he would those players to come to the Olympics.

"I would stay out of it," laughed Gilgeous-Alexander. "I would let (Team Canada general manager Rowan Barrett) — he’s really good at his job — I would let him do his job."

UP NEXT — The Raptors travel to Washington, D.C., to face the Wizards (12-58) on Saturday.

Oklahoma City visits the Milwaukee Bucks (45-25) on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2024.

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