CLEVELAND — It’s almost a shame what has happened here.
The loss of one player, a figure locals loved like royalty, has removed so much of the spirit that once pumped life into Quicken Loans Arena and made it one of the league’s toughest venues.
The excitement in these parts is now long gone, and so is every shred of competitive advantage the Cleveland Cavaliers owned just a short time ago.
And the Oklahoma City Thunder took no pity, wasting little time in pouncing on what is now the league’s worst franchise.
After five straight years of flaming out in this building during the LeBron James era, the Thunder finally conquered the Cavs, embarrassing them 95-75 on Sunday. It was the franchise’s first win at Cleveland since March 2, 2005, when the team was located in Seattle.
Since then, the Thunder/Sonics had lost by an average of 20.2 points over the past trips to Cleveland, the closest defeat being a one-point margin here last season.
“They’re a whole different team now,” said Kevin Durant. “So it was a little different.”
A little? Try a lot.
Sunday showed just how far the Cavs (12-53) have fallen while also illustrating how far the Thunder (42-23) has come.
On the day before Thanksgiving two years ago, the Cavs trotted out a pubescent boy as part of an in-game skit. Before the final buzzer had sounded on OKC’s eventual 35-point drubbing, the boy had fans doubled over at his one-liner about how he was thankful for not having to watch the Thunder every night.
Then, the Thunder was on its way to a 23-win season and the Cavs were headed for a franchise-best 66 victories.
This go-round, the announced crowd of 19,811 sat in relative silence as James’ riveting dunks had been replaced by three blown slams by his replacements. The closest fans got to some of James’ old chase-down blocks were rejections by Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, whose seven swats came one shy of tying his career-high.
By the time Cavs guard Manny Harris air-balled a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter, the crowd responded with a smattering of boos that served as a concrete reminder of how far removed the Cavs are from their recent glory days.
Nothing spoke to the trajectory of the two franchises like the disposition of the opposing coaches. At one end of the hall, Cavs coach Byron Scott was again questioning his team’s heart. On the other end, Thunder coach Scott Brooks almost struggled to find something to say after such a sound victory.
The Thunder led by as many as 28 against an shorthanded Cavs squad playing without point guard Baron Davis (death in his family) and injured forwards Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao. OKC never trailed after taking a 7-5 lead with 9:39 remaining in the opening period.
And for the second time this season, the Thunder held Cleveland to 33.8 percent shooting, which stands as the opponent season low.
Four Thunder players scored in double digits, led by Russell Westbrook’s game-high 20 points. Kevin Durant had 19 points, James Harden scored 16 off the bench and Nazr Mohammed added 11 points. Ibaka chipped in eight points and a team-high 14 rebounds to go with his seven swats.
“Anytime you can win on the road it’s a good win,” Brooks said.