Cavs 115, Thunder 110
Nuggets from my notebook from Saturday’s loss at Cleveland.
- A few Cleveland-area reporters saw this coming. They knew how Kyrie Irving played one night earlier at Detroit. They heard him take the blame for the Cavs’ blowout loss to the Pistons, for playing “uninspired” and allowing it to trickle down to his teammates. They figured he’d respond. They were right.
- Irving put on perhaps the most dominating performance of the year against the Thunder, scoring a game-high 35 points on 12 of 23 shooting in 35 minutes. He scored when he needed to, set up teammates when the defense was too suffocating and simply took over down the stretch.
- Said Kevin Martin: “We ran into a special player at the end of the game.”
- This is the NBA, where great players can be hard to stop even when you know exactly what they’re going to do. Still, to see that moment in the game actually occur, over and over and over again, is utterly amazing. That’s what happened tonight.
- Kevin Durant raved about Irving in the days leading up to this game. He said Irving already is one of the top five players at his position and a player he’d pay to see. Scott Brooks expressed similar praise for the Cavs point guard hours before the game. Yet no one on the Thunder could stop him.
- Irving scored or assisted on 17 of the Cavs’ final 21 points. He picked apart the Thunder’s defense both on pick-and-rolls and isolations. It frankly did not matter what set was called for him or against him. He made up his mind that he was taking over this game and that’s what he did.
- Irving’s 35 points matched Kobe Bryant for the most scored by an individual player against the Thunder this season.
- Obviously, one of the biggest questions after this one is why Brooks didn’t sic Thabo Sefolosha on Irving. Here’s what Brooks said. “It’s just a decision I made,” Brooks said. “We have multiple defenders, but when we get beat on pick-and-rolls it’s a five (man) defensive breakdown. It’s not one guy.”
- Said Sefolosha when asked why he wasn’t on him: “Ask coach. That was his decision, and I’m perfectly fine with it. I understand in the heat of the moment you’ve got to make some decisions, and that’s the decision he made. So I’m perfectly fine with it.”
- My opinion, which obviously means absolutely nothing. I don’t think it would have mattered if Sefolosha was on Irving. The dude was just that good tonight.
- Having said that, here’s the problem I had with Brooks not putting Sefolosha in and sliding Westbrook over. Brooks said one thing after the game but played his cards differently during it. For example. “We scored enough points to win,” Brooks said. “When you give up 115, and normally we only give up in the mid-90s, that’s not our game. We definitely can win playing an up-and-down game, but we are a defensive team and we didn’t play good enough defense tonight. That’s unacceptable.” Ahem, so why is the best perimeter defender on the bench for the final 10 minutes????
- Here’s another variation from Brooks. “We didn’t play defense,” he said. “It wasn’t our offense. We scored 110 points. That’s usually enough for us to win games.”
- So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s two times in the past three games that Brooks has used Sefolosha strangely. In the Lakers game, the Thunder needed buckets most and he brought back Sefolosha in place of Martin. And in this one, the Thunder needed defense most and Brooks sat Sefolosha and went with K-Mart. My brain is officially teased.
- Cleveland’s 115 points are the most allowed by the Thunder in a regulation game this season.
- More disturbing, the Cavs scored 39 points in the fourth quarter and 58 in the final 19 minutes.
- Disturbingly more disturbing is the Thunder has now allowed 107.2 points per game and 46.8 percent shooting in its past seven road games. OKC is 3-4 in those seven road games.
- “We just got to be better,” Durant said. “No excuses. We got to be better.”
- K-Mart: “It could be a little mid-season funk, but that just shows us that we’re nowhere near where we want to be or a finished product. So we have some work to do.”
- The Thunder led 68-57 with 7:05 left in the third. Over the next 11 1/2 minutes, the Cavs outscored the Thunder 35-16 to take an eight-point lead.
- Durant on what changed. “We just can’t come down and play nonchalant basketball,” he said. “We’re up (11) we got to put them away.”
- Marreese Speights started the surge in the fourth quarter, which sucked for the sole reason that I had then was forced to spell Marreese Speights. But the big fella was balling. He was knocking down jumpers — mostly due to what seemed to be either a lack of respect or plain lapses — and hustling to find creases in the defense for putback points and one ridiculous driving dunk. He scored eight of 11 Cavs’ points after Cleveland tied it up at 81-all and finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and one block off the bench.
- Speights scored five fewer points than the Thunder’s entire bench mustered.
- Speights would have been a nice pickup for the Thunder when Memphis just dumped him and Wayne Ellington for financial reasons. But even at $4 million this season, he makes a little too much for the Thunder’s purposes. There just wasn’t a feasible deal that worked without putting the Thunder over the tax threshold and/or costing the team at least one of its promising young players. Beyond that, Memphis would have had to be nuts to trade him to OKC. Oh well.
- Durant scored 32 points with 11 rebounds, his second double-double in four games and ninth this season. But he did some serious damage to his pursuit of 50-40-90. He made 13 of 17 free throws (76.4 percent) and went eight for 21 from the field (38 percent).
- Not sure what was up with Durant early on. He had a rough shooting start. Just couldn’t get a shot to fall. He started 1-for-5 from the field and missed three of his first eight free throws.
- Adding injury to inefficiency, Durant was kneed in the back by Alonzo Gee on a third-quarter drive to the hoop by Gee. It happened with 6:04 left to play. Durant immediately started grimacing and clutching at his midsection. He stayed in the game another two minutes before heading to the locker room. After emerging from the tunnel with 1:04 left in the period, Durant checked back in with 9:55 left to play. He scored 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting in the fourth but never really looked like Kevin Durant.
- Durant appeared to be in significant pain and discomfort after the game. He downplayed the injury, but the medical staff was still tending to him and he was moving slowly and gingerly in the locker room long after the game. The team officially labeled the injury as a right rib contusion. Asked how it was feeling, Durant said “If I can play, I’m all right. I was good. I came (back) in and played so that’s all that matters.”
- I’d be shocked if Durant plays Monday. But, again, that’s my opinion, which means absolutely nothing.
- Yes, the Thunder has now lost to the Wizards and Cavs, two of the three worst teams in the Eastern Conference. They’re a combined 25-68.
- Russell Westbrook posted up Waiters on the Thunder’s second possession. I just thought it’d be ironic if someone cut through the lane toward him.
- Serge Ibaka came out and cleaned the glass wonderfully. He had five rebounds, two on the offensive end, in the first quarter. Through three quarters, he had 11 boards, six on the offensive end. Ibaka’s rebounding led to one of those nights. He got involved in the offense through his hustle and stuck in putbacks for which the defense had no answer. He scored 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting and finished with 12 boards, including six offensive.
- If you’re one of those Thunder heads who keep spouting off the team’s record with Eric Maynor versus Reggie Jackson, do yourself a favor and change the channel. You clearly aren’t watching these games anyway.
- Jackson was a game-worst minus-15 tonight. I’m convinced some see that as entirely his fault.
- Perry Jones III subbed in for Durant with two minutes left in the first quarter. Once again, I barely noticed he was on the court.
- DeAndre Liggins picked up his second technical foul in as many games tonight. And when he did, Brooks promptly yanked him and never put him back in.
- With 1:25 left in the first half, Westbrook was called for his third foul. It forced him to go to the bench. But Brooks made an interesting move. He inserted K-Mart instead of Jackson. The five-man unit was then Durant, K-Mart, Sefolosha, Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Durant ran point.
- During those 1 1/2 minutes of KD running the point just before the end of the first half, Durant had a gorgeous drive and dish to Ibaka. After actually catching it cleanly, Ibaka then botched the dunk and watched the ball bounce high up in the air. Pity.
- Ibaka and Perk did some serious paint patrolling tonight. They were blocking shots (officially four apiece) and shutting down the Cavs’ looks at the basket. Obviously, the Cavs don’t have much in the way of low-post scoring. But Cleveland does have some athletes that can bang down there and get a few hustle points. Throughout most of this one, though, Perk and Ibaka shut that off.
- The Thunder had 10 steals and 11 blocked shots.
- There were 15 ties and 19 lead changes tonight.
- K-Mart said before the game that he heard about PTI wishing him a happy birthday Friday but posting a picture of Sefolosha. Martin thought it was funny. He then said he’s not 30 yet. He’s still 29 until July 2. Why? That’s the second day of free agency. I guess every little bit helps in negotiations.
- Up next. Dallas on Monday.
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