TULSA — The Thunder was down Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Mavericks were without Luka Doncic. A double bummer for fans in Tulsa who hoped to see OKC’s franchise player and Dallas’ megastar play in a preseason game.
But in what could have been a starless night in Tulsa, Josh Giddey shined. The second-year Thunder guard was the best player on the floor, and he played like he knew it, even in a 98-96 Thunder loss.
“I’ve kinda had a history of getting off to slow starts,” Giddey said. “I don’t know what it is. Tonight just trying to get downhill, make their bigs make decisions at the ring.”
Midway through the first quarter, Giddey, not known for his defense, picked off a pass and finished on the other end. He had three steals in the first six minutes of the game. Last season, Giddey never had more than four steals in a game.
Giddey relentlessly drove to the rim, both finishing plays for himself and setting up his teammates.
“He was on the gas tonight,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said.
Giddey had 13 points, four steals, three assists and two rebounds — all in 17 first-half minutes. Giddey didn’t play in the second half, likely resting on the first night of a preseason back-to-back.
The Thunder plays his former team, the Adelaide 36ers, Thursday night in Oklahoma City. The 36ers were at the Thunder-Mavs game.
There was a good crowd at BOK Center.
“We love coming here,” Daigneault said.
Thunder vs. Nuggets: Five takeaways from OKC's win at Denver in NBA preseason opener
Jalen Williams playing point for Thunder
Jalen Williams drove to the rim and finished through contact for a third quarter and-one. The Thunder rookie was strong Wednesday night.
The Thunder is high on J-Dub for good reason. The Santa Clara standout made a good first impression in Summer League, and he’s followed that up with encouraging preseason performances.
“If you overload him, he kind of benefits from that,” Daigneault said. “The more you put on his plate, the more he’ll develop.”
Williams, who leads the team in shortest shorts, had 10 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals. He only shot 3-of-9 from the floor, but his activity made up for his inefficiency.
Williams, as he did Monday night in Denver, played point guard on the second unit. It’s his natural position, but Williams can play all over the floor. He might be handling the ball more now than usual given that OKC is down a few guards.
“I like playing the point,” Williams said. “You get the ball.”
Luka Doncic-less Mavericks
Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber were all designated as “not with the team.” Davis Bertans and JaVale McGee were out with injuries.
Other key Mavericks — Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock — sat out in the second half, as did a few Thunder starters.
Christian Wood, Dallas’ major offseason addition, carried the Mavericks with a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double. Wood shot 7-of-13 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range.
After making a 3-pointer in the third quarter, Wood turned to the Thunder’s bench and shared a few words. Darius Bazley smiled, as if to say “game on,” and Bazley jogged to the scorer’s table to check in and guard Wood.
Mavericks rookie guard Jaden Hardy scorched the Thunder in the fourth quarter, when he scored 16 of his game-high 21 points. Hardy was the 37th pick in the draft.
Ousmane Dieng observations
Given the Thunder’s plethora of young players, Ousmane Dieng is easy to overlook. A 19-year-old project who’s worth checking in on in a year or two.
Dieng seems to be destined for G League minutes this season, but who knows.
Dieng has a rare fluidness about him for being 6-foot-10. He displayed that on a graceful Euro-step (he’s French after all) early in the game.
Dieng also knocked down a corner 3-pointer in his eight-point night.
“He has a good sense for the game, and I think defensively he’s been pretty encouraging,” Daigneault said. “He’s got good size and he can also move his feet and get out on the water a little bit and guard on the perimeter.”
As Jalen Williams put it: “I think we all forget that he’s 6-10. He moves extremely well.”
• The Thunder released center Sacha Killeya-Jones from its training camp roster and signed forward Robert Woodard II. Woodard, wearing No. 42, played seven minutes Wednesday night. Both Woodard and Killeya-Jones are likely bound for the G League Blue.
• Daigneault didn’t reveal his starters at his pregame press conference. He said it’s a habit he’ll carry into the regular season, citing a competitive advantage. Daigneault, a third-year head coach, regularly revealed his starters the last two seasons.
• Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Aaron Wiggins, Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl got the start. The only difference from Monday night was Wiggins starting over Kenrich Williams. Kenrich Williams was the first player off the bench.
• Giddey and Josh Green spent plenty of time guarding each other. Australian on Australian. They chatted for a while after the game.
• This was the second of six Thunder preseason games and the Mavericks’ first of just three preseason games.
• BetOnline released Most Improved Player odds. Anthony Edwards, at 10-1, is favored to win the award, which went to Ja Morant last season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is 25-1, Josh Giddey is 40-1, Aleksej Pokusevski is 66-1 and Lu Dort is 75-1.
• Thunder general manager Sam Presti was in Las Vegas on Tuesday to watch French phenom Victor Wembanyama and the Boulogne-Lavallois Metropolitans 92 play Scoot Henderson and the G League Ignite. Wembanyama and Henderson are the projected No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2023 NBA Draft.
• The game in Vegas, which aired on ESPN2, somehow exceeded the hype. Wembanyama, listed anywhere from 7-foot-2 to 7-foot-5, scored 37 points on 7-of-11 3-point shooting. He also blocked five shots. Henderson was electric as well, with 28 points, nine assists and five rebounds.
• In the annual NBA GM survey, Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren finished second to Orlando’s Paolo Banchero as the rookie who will be the best player in five years. Banchero received 31% of the votes, Holmgren had 28% and Jabari Smith and Jaden Ivey tied for third with 14%.
• Other survey notes: Serbian guard Vasilije Micic, whose NBA rights belong to the Thunder, was voted the third-best international player who’s not in the NBA. Wembenyama was first and Nikola Mirotic was second.
• Jalen Williams, the Thunder’s No. 12 pick, tied for fifth with 7% of the votes as the “biggest steal” of the draft. Jalen Duren, who went 13th to Detroit, and Tari Eason, who went 17th to Houston, were the top vote getters.
Thunder vs. Mavericks live updates
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Thunder vs. Mavericks: Dallas beats OKC in Tulsa in NBA preseason game