NBA: Chet Holmgren shines as Thunder rally past Cavaliers
CLEVELAND— Just two games into his NBA career and Chet Holmgren already looks special.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 34 points, Holmgren added 16, 13 rebounds and seven blocks and the Oklahoma City Thunder made a furious rally in the final two minutes to stun the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-105 on Friday night.
The young Thunder trailed 102-93 with 1:56 left before getting three straight 3-pointers — one by Holmgren, who calmly dropped his shot from the top of the key — in an 11-0 run and closed with a 15-3 flurry to wreck Cleveland’s home opener.
“Chet was who he needed to be for us to win this game,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “He’s going to be a very good basketball player.”
The No. 2 overall pick in 2022, Holmgren missed all of last season after sustaining a Lisfranc foot injury during a summer game. The Thunder finally have him on the floor and the 7-foot-1 Holmgren looked composed and comfortable in his 31 minutes.
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That wasn’t the case in Oklahoma City’s opener at Chicago. Holmgren had 11 points, just four rebounds and no blocks.
“That was unacceptable,” Holmgren said. “I was able to apply what I learned from it tonight.”
Gilgeous-Alexander made his first two free throws with 4.6 seconds left, and Oklahoma City’s smooth guard then stole the ball from Donovan Mitchell to end it as the Thunder opened the season with their second straight road win.
Mitchell scored 43 points while having to work extra hard with Cleveland missing All-Stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen with injuries.
Mitchell made all the big plays for the Cavs, who were seemingly in control until the Thunder stormed back. After Oklahoma City won a replay challenge when Holmgren got his seventh block, Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Holmgren hit their 3s in a span of 46 seconds.
Caris LeVert added 17 points — 15 after halftime — and Evan Mobley had 14 points and 15 rebounds for Cleveland, playing its first game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse since April 26, when the Cavs were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Knicks.
This one had a similarly brutal ending as the Cavs choked in the final minutes.
“They made some big shots in that run,” Mitchell said. “But everything else is self-inflicted. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot that way. We’re not going to hang our heads on this one. It’s fixable.”
Cleveland’s Isaac Okoro, who left with a bloodied nose after he was inadvertently elbowed by Williams in the third quarter, was impressed with Holmgren.
“He’s long,” Okoro said. “A good rim protector and all-around player.”
While Holmgren drew praise from both teams, Thunder coach Mark Daigneault held back on pumping him up too much.
“We can’t be blinded by his talent, but he’s definitely got talent,” Daigneault said. “He’s a competitor and he’s got talent. But he has a lot to learn and makes a lot of rookie mistakes.”
The Cavs were missing 40% of their starting lineup.
Garland has been dealing with a left hamstring issue that bothered Cleveland’s point guard in Wednesday’s opener at Brooklyn.
Allen has been sidelined for several weeks with a bone bruise in his left ankle. While the center has been doing some individual work in practice, he’s not ready to play and the Cavs are going to continue to take it slow with Allen.
Down by 10 and shooting poorly from the outside (3 of 22 on 3s), the Cavaliers finally found their range in the third quarter after Okoro went out on a play in which he was called for a foul despite being clobbered.
Mitchell and LeVert hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Cleveland went on a 22-9 tear to take the lead for the first time since the opening quarter.
The Cavs played a video tribute during the first timeout to honor Bobby “Bingo” Smith, a core member of a beloved Cleveland team in the 1970s who died Thursday at the age of 77. Smith’s No. 7 jersey was retired in 1979 and hangs from the rafters.
There was also a moment of silence for victims of the mass shooting in Maine.
Thunder: Play their home opener Sunday against defending champion Denver.
Cavaliers: Host Indiana on Saturday.