Kevin Durant turned his back to the bench during an on-court huddle and violently kicked a chair in frustration, nearly sending a Gatorade jug toppling over.
Sixty-one seconds were still showing on the game clock, but a foreign feeling had set in.
The Thunder, trailing by 11, didn’t have a chance and everyone knew it.
And when Oklahoma City had to accept the agony of impending defeat against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team mired in turmoil this season, not even the mild-mannered franchise player could keep his emotions in check.
For the first time since its inaugural season, the Thunder is on a three-game home losing streak. An unforeseen 114-104 loss to the Cavs on Wednesday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena marked the latest confounding performance for a team that has been floundering for much of February, and one that now can’t seem to figure out a remedy for its post-All-Star malaise.
Cleveland, playing on the second night of a back-to-back and without three integral rotation players, erased a 12-point, third-quarter deficit and took command with an authoritative 42-point fourth quarter.
Kyrie Irving, the Cavs guard who stole All-Star Game MVP honors away from Durant a week and a half ago, captained his team’s come-from-behind win with a dazzling display of shooting, playmaking and nearly impeccable game management. He scored 14 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter, connecting on all three of his 3-pointers while adding three assists against one turnover and playing the period’s entire 12 minutes. He finished with nine assists, five rebounds and four steals, eliciting memories of the 35-point show he put on while dealing the Thunder a 115-100 road loss last February.
Irving, however, represented only the Thunder’s biggest problem.
Each one of Cleveland’s four other starters scored in double figures, the second straight game in which the Thunder has allowed an opposing first string such success.
On this night, that tally was particularly troubling seeing as how the Cavs were without Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles and Anderson Varejao, a trio responsible for more than a third of Cleveland’s offense.
Afterward, a dejected Durant sat at his locker searching for how to explain what’s doomed the Thunder.
“I can’t even explain that,” he said when asked how this team fixes its suddenly shaky defense.
The final 12 minutes overshadowed an otherwise marvelous night from Durant and Russell Westbrook, who enjoyed his best performance since returning from knee surgery.
Durant scored a team-high 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting with 10 rebounds and nine assists. He even atoned for his uncharacteristic outburst, apologizing to the front row fans he unintentionally splashed.
“I mean sometimes, we all handle situations differently,” said Derek Fisher. “I know Kevin did reach out and at least acknowledge to the people in the first row there that he was sorry for spilling the water and the Gatorade on them. I don’t think there’s any question we care about what’s happening, and obviously Kevin cares about what’s happening. You don’t want to do things that are necessarily out of character or that look bad for you or your team. But at the same time, I don’t think any of us mind the passion that sometimes is necessary for people to see.”
Oddly enough, the temperamental Westbrook was the one who effectively communicated his emotions after the game. He shot down all talk of how his 24-point, nine-assist night was in any way a silver lining. He refused to even concede that it was a step in the right direction.
“We lost,” he said. “No matter how I play; I could have 50 points. If we lose it don’t matter. This league is all about wins, man. It ain’t about individual performances. Every night you want to come out and win games. Based on winning games, you win the championship. That’s what you want to do.”