Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 22 of his 40 points in the second half to help the surging Oklahoma City Thunder pull away for an impressive 119-93 road win over the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets on Friday.
Gilgeous-Alexander finished 14 of 20 from the field and a perfect 10 for 10 from the free-throw line to lead the upstart Thunder to their sixth win in seven games.
Oklahoma City, which last reached the playoffs in the 2019-20 season, is now 21-9 and percentage points ahead of Denver for second place in the Northwest Division.
Chet Holmgren added 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting for the Thunder, who outscored Denver by a 34-20 margin in the third quarter to turn a six-point half-time lead into a commanding 88-68 advantage.
Played the Thunder Waypic.twitter.com/jZyvwlZQsJ— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 30, 2023
The Nuggets had a six-game winning streak halted despite another efficient outing from Nikola Jokić, who made 9 of 10 field goal attempts while compiling 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Jokic's primary teammates were off the mark, however. Jamal Murray missed 11 of 15 field goal attempts while being held to nine points, while Michael Porter Jr. was 4 of 12 and ended with 12 points.
Antetokounmpo, Lillard rally Bucks past Cavaliers
The Milwaukee Bucks got 34 points and 16 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo and a big second half from Damian Lillard to rally for a 119-111 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in a clash of the Central Division's top teams.
Lillard scored 24 of his 31 points after half-time to help Milwaukee overcome an early 15-point deficit and post its ninth win in 10 games. The Bucks extended their lead on second-place Cleveland to six games in the division.
The Cavaliers had won five of six coming in and got top scorer Donovan Mitchell back from a four-game absence, with the four-time All-Star registering 34 points and nine assists in his return. Cleveland also got a big effort from Jarrett Allen in defeat, as the centre amassed a career-high 30 points, 12 rebounds and six assists while finishing 15 of 17 from the field.
Cleveland owned a 50-35 lead midway through the second quarter before the Bucks closed the gap to 59-52 at the break. Milwaukee then opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run, then later put together an 11-0 spurt to claim an 88-73 advantage with under three minutes remaining in the period.
Both Antetokounmpo and Lillard had 14 points in the pivotal third quarter.
The Cavs were able to cut Milwaukee's lead to 115-111 inside the final minute, but didn't make a shot the rest of the way and the Bucks sealed the game with four late free throws.
Milwaukee finished 25 of 28 from the foul line, while Cleveland attempted just nine free throws on the night.
Wagner, Banchero lead Magic over Knicks
Franz Wagner had 32 points and Paolo Banchero added 29 as the Orlando Magic got back on track with a 117-108 victory over the New York Knicks.
Orlando bounced back from Wednesday's 20-point home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers behind strong performances from its two young stars. Wagner finished 11 of 19 from the field to go along with nine rebounds, while Banchero had 10 boards and scored 15 points in the second half.
Jalen Suggs contributed 21 points for the Magic, who never trailed after stringing together a 14-1 run in the second quarter that turned a 33-33 tie into a comfortable 47-34 lead.
The Knicks battled back behind Julius Randle, who finished with 38 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, but could only get their deficit down to five points in the game's late stages.
Wagner helped Orlando hold on by recording 10 of his points in the fourth quarter.
WAGIC WIN ? pic.twitter.com/gEeGUSB1Wd— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 30, 2023
Jalen Brunson had 20 points for New York, which has now lost two straight, but was held to 4-of-15 shooting from the field.