CLEVELAND — This is what Kevin Durant was referencing when raving about Kyrie Irving, and that's what makes Cleveland's 115-110 win over the Thunder on Saturday night so much tougher to swallow.
Oklahoma City knew exactly what was coming but when it was crunch time had no answer for the 20-year-old avalanche that stormed Quicken Loans Arena and powered the Cavs to a signature win.
Irving once again was incredible against OKC, scoring 13 of his game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter. The second-year point guard and first-time All-Star took over the game in the final six minutes, slicing through the Thunder's increasingly ineffective road defense to score and set up teammates with what seemed to be effortlessness and ease.
After checking back into the game with 5:48 left to play, Irving scored or assisted on 17 of the Cavs' final 21 points. He carved up OKC on a series of pick-and-roll sets and a handful of isolations, splashing in jumpers and slashing to the rim for layups with equal efficiency and effectiveness.
“We couldn't really stop him. It was like he was playing one-on-one with our bigs,” said Durant, who days earlier praised Irving as one of the top five players at his position and a player he'd pay to see.
Irving's point total ultimately matched Kobe Bryant's as an opponent season high against the Thunder.
“We ran into a special player at the end of the game,” said OKC's Kevin Martin.
But, as Martin said moments earlier, “we shouldn't even have been in that situation. We're a much better team than that.”
The Thunder blew an 11-point lead with 7:05 to play in the third quarter. Instead of running and hiding, Oklahoma City carelessly allowed Cleveland to cut the margin to two by the end of the period and grow confident entering the final frame.
“We just can't come down and play nonchalant basketball,” Durant said. “We're up (11) we got to put them away.”
The Cavs had other ideas and promptly outscored OKC 35-18 over the next 11 1/2 minutes to take an eight-point lead midway through the fourth.
Marreese Speights sparked the surge, scoring 13 of his 21 points off the bench in the final period. After the Cavs clawed back within an 81-all tie, Speights scored eight of the next 11 Cavs' points, dropping midrange jumpers and hustling for putback points that flipped the momentum.
“His jump shot was falling. That's his game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He can pick-and-pop and he can stretch the defense out.”
Speights capped the rally with a ridiculous drive down the right side that he punctuated with a one-handed dunk. Immediately after flushing it, Speights began to flex his muscles, first directly in front of Brooks and the Thunder's bench and then down the sideline adjacent the scorer's table as he walked back to his huddle upon Brooks taking a necessary timeout.
Almost immediately after Speights was finished flexing, Irving took over.
While the Cavs' best player was pouring in points, the Thunder strangely had its best perimeter defender on the bench. Thabo Sefolosha played only the first two minutes, five seconds of the final period — none of which matched Irving's time on the court in the fourth.
Brooks, however, neither pinned Irving's fourth-quarter eruption on Russell Westbrook nor expressed regret in not going with Sefolosha.
“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.”
Collectively, there's no question the Thunder has some things to figure out.
Oklahoma City gave up 39 points to the Cavs in the fourth quarter and an eye-popping 58 in the final 19 minutes. Cleveland's point total was the most the Thunder has allowed in regulation this season.
It continued a troubling trend in which the Thunder has yielded an average of 107.2 points and 46.8 percent shooting in its last seven road games.
The road record stands at 3-4 over that span.
“We just got to be better,” Durant said. “No excuses. We got to be better.”