Chet Holmgren’s Clutch Shot Keys Career Night, Propels Oklahoma City Thunder

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The Oklahoma City Thunder were hoping for some good fortune to give their game against the Golden State Warriors an extra five minutes on Saturday night, as they trailed by three points with 1.6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Josh Giddey inbounded the ball to center Chet Holmgren, who had Andrew Wiggins pressed up against him as he stood close to the right corner of the 3-point line. With his back to the basket, Holmgren took a shot in the direction of the hoop.

Though Thunder coach Mark Daigneault claimed it was precisely how they drew up the play, Holmgren might have been lucky.

Holmgren became the first rookie with a 35-10-5 game since Luka Doncic in 2019 after making a clutch 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime in just his 13th game. Holmgren finished with a career-best 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting, 10 rebounds, and five assists. Thunder prevailed 130–123.

According to Daigneault, Holmgren did not have an “epiphany” game on this night; rather, it was a revelation of the player that he can or will become the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft. According to him, it’s a culmination of the work Holmgren has been doing since the beginning of the season, a gradual process.

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

However, Holmgren observed afterward that the evening was not flawless. Before his big shot, he had a particularly careless stretch that included a turnover, a missed layup out of a timeout, and a missed corner 3.

It was all Gilgeous-Alexander, who led the Thunder to a sixth straight loss by scoring ten of his forty points in overtime. On Thursday, Oklahoma City defeated Golden State as well, 128-109.

Midway through overtime, with the score tied, Gilgeous-Alexander squared off against Chris Paul, eventually rising just above the 19-year-old guard to make a midrange jump shot. He made another challenging fadeaway over Wiggins two minutes later.

Five seconds later, Gilgeous-Alexander finished a layup at the other end after blocking a Stephen Curry attempt, setting up the sequence that sealed the win.

Compared to his usual amount of touches in the paint, Holmgren received a lot more on Saturday night. Daigneault explained that this was just a natural part of the 7-foot-1 center’s learning curve.

When a smaller defender switches onto Holmgren, which was inevitable against a much smaller Golden State team, Daigneault and his coaching staff talked with him on Saturday morning about getting him the ball. Either activate the help and move it out of the post or let Holmgren play one-on-one.

It was the most comprehensive offensive performance the Warriors had seen in weeks. After missing the first two games due to a left knee injury, Curry scored 25 points in his first game back. Klay Thompson performed well in the first half of the game before faltering in the latter.

What was perhaps most significant for the Warriors was that the Wiggins they had been waiting for finally materialized. Using 12 of 19 shots, including five 3-pointers, he finished with a season-high 31 points. With just 1.6 seconds remaining in regulation, the third one—which might have been the game-winning shot for the Warriors—came in the clutch.

Then Holmgren delivered his counterattack.

Daigneault saw much more in Holmgren’s shot than just the shot itself. It also had to do with how Giddey, who had been on the bench during the previous play, checked in and made the ideal inbounds pass right away. And that’s how Holmgren was set free by Gilgeous-Alexander by setting the screen.

“[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.”