Jalen Williams pushed the Thunder over the top.
On a push shot, fittingly enough, that sealed a crazy 119-111 Thunder comeback win against the Spurs on Wednesday night.
Williams, the rookie guard out of Santa Clara, scored a career-high 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting. His feathery bucket with 30 seconds left gave the Thunder a decisive four-point lead.
“Just trying to get to a spot where I like to score,” Williams said of getting to the paint. “I think that’s kind of like the kill spot. There’s a lot of reads that you can make out of there.”
Williams kept, which was the right read on a night when the Thunder was missing its go-to scorer in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“He was big time,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “He was really good … defense especially. I know he scored tonight, but the thing that’s intriguing about him is just his size out there. He’s huge for a wing. It’s hard to find big wing defenders like that.”
Williams was the engine behind the Thunder’s 20-point comeback. He scored 12 of the Thunder’s 28 points in the third quarter, which the Thunder won by nine points. Then in the fourth, Williams had eight points on 3-of-3 shooting.
His loudest basket came late in the third quarter. Williams cut baseline and received a pass with nowhere to go. At least it looked that way.
Williams somehow contorted his body around the backboard and through a couple of Spurs to throw down a double-clutch dunk.
How did he do it?
“I have very long arms,” Williams said. “I was kind of shocked I dunked it.”
To cap off his career night, Williams did his best to evade teammate Aleksej Pokusevski, who snuck up from behind Williams during his walk-off interview. Poku emptied a cup of water on Williams’ head.
“I got the water thrown at me, not poured,” Williams clarified. “A cup hit me in my face. There was a lot of stuff going on.”
Williams will have to get used to it if he plays like that.
Thunder defense flips switch
The Spurs scored a season-high 77 points in the first half.
The Spurs scored a season-low 34 points in the second half.
Daigneault was asked what flipped for the Thunder defensively.
“We just had way more of a care factor,” Daigneault said, “and we were way tougher.”
The Spurs shot 64% in the first half. The Thunder held them to 28% in the second half.
The Spurs, losers of 14 of their last 15 games, thrashed the Thunder 77-60 in the first half. The same Spurs that entered the night with the 29th-ranked offense in a 30-team league.
Interestingly, Darius Bazley was the only active Thunder player who didn’t see the court in the first half. Bazley is arguably the Thunder’s most versatile defender, but Daigneault didn’t go to Bazley until the 4:25 mark of the third quarter.
The Thunder outscored the Spurs by 12 points with Bazley on the court.
“I was trying a couple different guys in the first half,” Daigneault said. “Was just looking for something, and he was the one guy I didn’t go to, and he’s a defensive player. He delivered in a big way.”
Tre Mann’s bounceback
Tre Mann, who had all the buzz in preseason, entered the night shooting just 28% from 3-point range and sub-40% from the floor.
Mann is one of the Thunder’s most dynamic scorers, but the results haven’t borne that out.
“I think you’ve gotta stick with guys, especially guys you’re encouraging to be aggressive,” Daigneault said before the game. “We’re encouraging him to be aggressive, and so it would be really hypocritical if we were encouraging him to be aggressive and then we turned around and punished him for being aggressive when he didn’t shoot it well.
“The second thing is he’s playing really hard right now,” Daigneault added. “His shot not falling is not impacting his effort.”
Mann’s shot was falling against the Spurs.
He scored 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Mann was 2-of-5 from 3-point range.
Playing without SGA
Gilgeous-Alexander missed the game due to a left hip contusion, caused by his hard fall on Monday night in New Orleans.
It was the second game SGA missed this season.
“Systematically it doesn’t change anything,” Daigneault said before the game. “Certainly personnel wise it does, but systematically it doesn’t.
“It probably changes things more for San Antonio than it does for us, because game plans are not designed systematically, they’re designed specific to the personnel of the other team … (Gilgeous-Alexander) draws very unique game plans.”
Without Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder started Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Jalen Williams, Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
Giddey had a stat-stuffing night: 14 points, 14 rebounds, five assists.
• Ousmane Dieng and Isaiah Joe were the first two off the Thunder’s bench. Remember, don’t try to predict Daigneault’s rotations.
• Dieng had 10 points and seven rebounds. He shot 5-of-6 from the field, including a pretty layup where Dieng adjusted in midair. He also had two dunks.
• It was Dieng’s third game back since being recalled by the G League Blue. “He got a lot of minutes,” Daigneault said. “It was a really intentional plan, and he’s a better player when he came back after a short stint.”
• Thunder guard Lu Dort was big down the stretch. He muscled to the rim for a couple of tough layups, and he drew a key offensive foul in the final minute. Dort was the Thunder’s second-leading scorer with 23 points.
• Isaiah Roby was welcomed back to Oklahoma City, where he made 62 starts in 109 games from 2019-22. “Happy to see that he’s playing well there, as he did here,” Daigneault said before the game.
• Spurs sharpshooter Doug McDermott was ruled out in the fourth quarter with right ankle soreness.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Jalen Williams leads OKC Thunder rally to beat San Antonio Spurs