Thu, 07 Dec 2023

Thunder, Jalen Williams look to reverse fortunes vs. Cavs

Field Level Media
27 Jan 2023, 17:40 GMT+10

Jalen Williams came off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder the last time they faced off with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the Thunder's next game two days later, the rookie from Santa Clara moved into the starting lineup and hasn't moved since.

Friday night, Williams figures to be in the starting lineup for the 23rd consecutive game when the Thunder take on the Cavs in Oklahoma City.

Williams' offensive contributions are all over the place. He's coming off a 24-point performance in Wednesday's loss to Atlanta after scoring just four the game before, a win in Denver.

But he has become a fixture in a Thunder rotation that offers little other certainty outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey.

"I think his play speaks for itself," Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said of Williams. "He's a great player already. He's got a very bright future. We have a lot of belief in him. We're excited with where he's going."

Against the Hawks, not only did Williams have his second-highest scoring total of his rookie season, on 11-of-16 shooting, but he also had five rebounds and four steals.

"I think we expect that from him," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "He's proven for sure that he belongs in this league, and he's gonna be a really good basketball player for a really long time."

The Thunder have dropped two of their last three, attempting 51 fewer free throws than their opponents in that span (94-43).

Daigneault said some of the difference can be attributed to playing from behind and needing to foul late in two of those games.

"But there's a lot of those that are within our control that are just cheap fouls that, right now, we don't have the margin to give those up," Daigneault said. "Those are the ones we have to own. I also think that we've gotten fouled at times and it hasn't been called. We've got to continue to play through that but that's frustrating as well."

Cleveland has won two of its last three, including a 113-95 victory in Houston on Thursday.

Friday's game is the rubber game of a three-game road trip for the Cavs. Cleveland won the first meeting of the season against the Thunder, 110-102 at home Dec. 10, and has won four straight against Oklahoma City.

The Cavs were without Donovan Mitchell in that earlier meeting this season, as he sat out with a sore leg. Mitchell could miss Friday's game as well, after aggravating the groin injury that kept him out the three previous games in Tuesday's loss to the Knicks.

On Thursday, Mitchell was named an All-Star starter for the first time before missing Cleveland's game against the Rockets. After the win, Mitchell crashed the postgame television interview with Darius Garland to lobby for Garland's inclusion on the All-Star roster after Garland had 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting with nine assists.

"Darius has continued to grow," Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "And this is a place where we've seen him grow the most is understanding the moment, understanding each game and how it's different and what it takes for him and how to be a tone-setter."

Kevin Love also missed Thursday's game due to lower back spasms.

--Field Level Media

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