Gilgeous-Alexander returns with 38 as Thunder beat Jazz

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots as Utah Jazz guard Kris Dunn (11) defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, March 5, 2023, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 38 points and seven rebounds in his return from a five-game absence and the Oklahoma City Thunder led all the way while beating the Utah Jazz 129-119 on Sunday night.

Rookie Jalen Williams added a career-high 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting and Josh Giddey just missed a triple-double with 24 points, nine rebounds and nine assists for Oklahoma City, which beat the Jazz for the second time in three days. The Thunder also won in blowout fashion on Friday, 130-103.

Utah trailed by double digits for the final 42 minutes of Sunday’s game. Jordan Clarkson led Utah with 18 points but missed all five of his 3-point attempts. The Jazz played without All-Star Lauri Markkanen, who sat out with what the team said was a low-back strain.

“I just thought our guys started the game really well,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “We were in our spots and making them earn everything. We made some shots early (and) they missed some, but we forced them to go to jump shots early.”

Utah made only two of its first 17 field-goal attempts and missed its first nine 3-point shots, allowing Oklahoma City to sprint to a 28-10 lead with 2:44 left in the first quarter. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 13 of his points on 5-of-7 shooting during the quarter.

“All year, we’ve been talking about coming out fast,” Williams said. “I thought we did a good job of that. Obviously, with Shai coming back, we were all playing in our normal spots, too, so there was a lot more comfortable feel.”

The Thunder led by as many as 24 points in the second quarter and was ahead 70-51 at halftime. An 11-0 run by Utah pulled the Jazz within 88-78 with 4:09 left in the third quarter, but Isaiah Joe made a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired for Oklahoma City and Gilgeous-Alexander followed with two free throws.

The Thunder led 101-84 entering the fourth quarter and Utah came no closer than the final margin.

“I think in general, we played three quarters of pretty good basketball,” Utah coach Will Hardy said. “We just put ourselves in a big hole to start the game.

“It took us too long as a team to find a rhythm.”

TIP-INS Jazz: In addition to being without Markkanen, Utah also was missing Collin Sexton, who has a strained left hamstring … Kris Dunn, who signed a second 10-day contract with the Jazz on Saturday, played 27 minutes and scored a career-high 17 points … Center Walker Kessler also had 17 points (on 8-of-11 shooting) and added 10 rebounds.

Thunder: As part of a celebration of local Latin American and Hispanic communities, pregame player introductions for Oklahoma City were done in Spanish by the Thunder’s Spanish broadcaster, Eleno Ornela … Rookie Ousmane Dieng scored 12 points and was the only Oklahoma City player to score in double figures besides Gilgeous-Alexander, Williams and Giddey … Gilgeous-Alexander went 17 of 19 from the free-throw line, with the 19 attempts tying his career high.

SGA LIMITED

Daigneault said Gilgeous-Alexander’s left hip flexor strain – which resulted in Gilgeous-Alexander missing two games before he missed three more due to health and safety protocols – might result in reduced playing time for the star guard, as the team looks to keep him as available as possible for the rest of the season.

That could include sitting Gilgeous-Alexander for the second game of back-to-backs and changing the usual substitution patterns to reduce his overall minutes, Daigneault said. Gilgeous-Alexander entered Sunday’s game averaging 31.0 points per game. He played 36 minutes and acknowledged after the game being a little winded at times.

UP NEXT

Jazz: Will continue a six-game road swing on Tuesday at Dallas.

Thunder: Will host Golden State on Tuesday to wrap up a six-game homestand.

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