Holmgren’s big 3 keys career night, propels OKC

SAN FRANCISCO — Down by three with 1.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder were looking for just a little bit of luck to extend the game five minutes longer Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors.

Josh Giddey inbounded the ball to center Chet Holmgren, who stood in the right corner of the 3-point line with Andrew Wiggins pushed right up against him. Holmgren turned to face the basket and launched a shot toward the hoop.

Maybe Holmgren got lucky, but Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said it was exactly how they drew up the play.

“Especially the part of the ball going in,” Daigneault joked.

In just his 13th game, Holmgren delivered a clutch 3 at the buzzer to force overtime and finished with a career-best 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting, 10 rebounds, and five assists, becoming the first rookie with a 35-10-5 game since Luka Doncic in 2019. The Thunder went on to win 130-123.

Daigneault said this wasn’t an “epiphany” game for a Holmgren — a night that revealed the player that he can or will become after being the No. 2 overall pick of the 2022 draft. He said it was an accumulation of what Holmgren has been working on through the early portion of the season, something that has been building over time.

“We have a young team that will grow over time,” Daigneault said. “We don’t want to cap the potential of any our players.”

Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said he was in “disbelief” when Holmgren’s shot went in, saying that it “felt like a movie.”

But Holmgren noted afterward that it wasn’t a perfect night. He had a particularly sloppy stretch leading up to his big shot — a missed corner 3, a turnover, a missed layup out of a timeout.

“Credit to coach for still having the confidence in me,” Holmgren said of his clutch 3. “There were a few different options to play, depending on what ended up being open. I was kind of the end of it, and at that point, it’s just ‘go make a play.’ … It was a good shot. It felt good coming out of my hands and it went in.”

Once the Thunder made it to overtime, it was all Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 10 of his 40 points in the extra five minutes, shutting the Warriors away with conviction to hand them their sixth consecutive loss.

With the score tied midway through overtime, Gilgeous-Alexander went head-to-head with Chris Paul, ultimately rising just above the 19-year guard to knock down a midrange jump shot. Two minutes later, he hit another difficult fadeaway over Wiggins.

The sequence that sealed the game came five seconds later, when Gilgeous-Alexander blocked Stephen Curry and then got the lay-in at the other end.

“It wasn’t going my way the whole game,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “My teammates were really good and aggressive early and drew attention from the other team. Then late I was able to play in space.”

Holmgren got a lot more touches in the paint Saturday night than he usually does, something Daigneault said is simply part of the process of learning the layers of the 7-foot-1 center.

Saturday morning, Daigneault and his coaching staff spoke with Holmgren about getting him the ball when a smaller defender gets switched onto him — which was guaranteed to happen against a much smaller Golden State team. From there, either let Holmgren play one-on-one or activate the help and move it out of the post.

“The advantage isn’t going to be in my hands if I’m trying to be all pretty on the perimeter all game long,” Holmgren said. “I can’t have too much pride to get in there and get dirty, whether it’s getting touches in the paint or fighting on the glass. … It’s not always going to be come down, dribble five times and pull up.”

For the Warriors, it was their most complete offensive game in weeks. Curry had 25 points in his first game back after missing the previous two with a left knee injury. Klay Thompson had an efficient early showing, before fading toward the end of the game.

Perhaps most important for the Warriors, the version of Wiggins they were patiently waiting for finally arrived. He finished with a season-high 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting, including five 3-pointers. Three of them came in the clutch, with the third being with just 1.6 seconds left in regulation and could have been the dagger that gave the Warriors the win.

But then Holmgren hit his rebuttal.

“When you’re in a losing streak like this, there is urgency for sure,” Curry said. “Any time you’re at this many in a row, it’s a problem you’ve got to fix. You don’t want to develop a losing mentality.”

In Daigneault’s eyes, Holmgren’s shot was about far more than just the shot itself. It was also about how Giddey, who was on the bench the play before, checked in and immediately executed the perfect Inbounds pass. And it was how Gilgeous-Alexander set the screen to free up Holmgren.

“[They’ve] got the humility and perspective to go in there and execute the play and try to get his teammate a shot, which they did,” Daigneault said. “I can’t overstate how much of a luxury that is, to have a guy that’s got the humility and perspective that you can draw up a play for a rookie and he goes in there and executes it.”