Cavs 100, Thunder 99
CLEVELAND — The last four losses have come by a combined five points.
On the season, Oklahoma City has lost seven games by three points or less and nine games by five points or less.
Surely there is sunshine at the end of this streak, right?
The Thunder has been left with no choice but to believe that following the latest last-second letdown, a 100-99 defeat in which LeBron James dominated down the stretch Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We’re getting stronger and stronger,” assured Russell Westbrook.
But when will these cubs develop a lion’s roar?
The progress is palpable. Last season, the Thunder lost 19 games by five points or less, the third most defeats by that margin. But already, the Thunder has turned some of those close losses into narrow victories. OKC has won seven games by five points or less at just over the halfway point in the season. It’s evidence that the Thunder not only is now competing consistently and giving itself a chance to win these close games but also learning how to close them out.
Looks on faces and the tone in voices inside the locker room Saturday said frustration has set in. But behind every admission of how tough these close defeats have been to bear came an assurance of how they will only make the Thunder better. No one walked out of the locker room with their head hung following the heart-breaker. Instead, players sounded eager to get back to practice, the only place they can apply and build on the lessons the Cavs and others have taught them.
“I am so proud of their toughness,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They are mentally tough. It is tough to lose the last four games by a total of four points. But they keep coming back. I don’t know if they know what they go through, but it’s a special group of guys that just love to compete for each other. These are tough losses. But you have to go through some tough losses to understand what it takes to win in this league and to win big in this league.”
Brooks went on to talk about how the Thunder is built to compete every night. And moments later, Westbrook backed up his coach before taking it a step further, boldly declaring what has long been evident.
“We think we can beat pretty much any team as long as we go out and compete every night and do what we need to do as a team,” Westbrook said.
The statement confirmed what Thabo Sefolosha said about the Thunder’s confidence.
“The confidence of the team, the confidence of the whole group, is as high as it can be,” Sefolosha said. “Even though we lost two in a row, we know what we have to do to win. So (confidence) can’t really get much higher right now. We just have to keep working as a team.”
And hope that soon a ray of sunshine will crack through this cloud of close losses.
- LeBron James’ block on Kevin Durant obviously was the play of the game.
- I would have liked to have seen Durant make a stronger move with the game on the line rather than relying on an off-balance, high-arching, left-handed prayer that had no chance of being answered with LeBron swooping. Give credit to Durant for taking it to the rim, though. Remember early this season when he settled for a 26-footer?
- Also give credit to coach Scott Brooks and the five Thunder players on the court on the last sequence for drawing up and executing a solid play. Again, rewind your mental DVRs to remember how some of these last-second sequences have played out for the Thunder.
- There is no way the Cavs should have won this game after blowing a 13-point lead, turning the ball over 17 times and missing 20 of 40 free throws. Goes to show how dominant LeBron is, I suppose.
- Shaquille O’Neal was huge for the Cavs. Some people think the Thunder actually have a better chance of winning against the Cavs with O’Neal in the lineup and San Antonio with Tim Duncan healthy. But even though Shaq might not be what he once was, tonight’s game roved he’s still a handful inside.
- Nenad Krstic did as good a job on Shaq as he could have, which on this night was not very good. Fortunately for Krstic, though, he made up for it on the offensive end, where he made Shaq respect his jumper.
- Krstic told me before the game that the cast he’s wearing on his sprained right thumb was pressing against the back of his thumb and into his wrist. That’s why he removed some of the wrapping Friday in Memphis. Krstic said he shot his first two free throws against the Grizzlies (both misses) without the ball ever touching anything more than his fingertips. But Krstic said the injury is starting to heal.
- I didn’t know Jawad Williams was in the NBA. I do now. His 12 points were a career-high and matched his point total from all of last season (10 games).
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