This is why the Thunder's veterans have preached consistency.
They knew that, sooner or later, the good fortune wouldn't be there for them in the fourth quarter. They knew that, at some point, the superstars' shots wouldn't fall in crunch time and the team defense that had been so dominant down the stretch wouldn't be so formidable.
Maybe after this latest humbling, and at times humiliating performance, the message will get across.
The Thunder saw its 14-game home winning streak come to an unexpected and unceremonious end on Friday night after Cleveland came into Chesapeake Energy Arena and out-toughed the home team from start to finish before leaving with a 96-90 win.
The Cavs entered the night nine games under .500 yet hung with the Western-Conference leading Thunder like a fellow heavyweight looking to prove a point.
“We came out kind of flat. We ran through the motions. And we gave them confidence,” said Thunder guard Royal Ivey.
The Thunder (31-9) never led by more than five points against the Cavs. And when it became clear very early on that the game would be a dogfight — there were 20 lead changes and 21 ties — Oklahoma City uncharacteristically struggled to score or come up with stops.
Turnovers and rebounding, the Thunder's two most problematic areas this season, once again were the cause of the collapse.
The Thunder got out-rebounded 51-40 and gave up 21 offensive rebounds, one shy of tying a season-high. Oklahoma City also turned it over 17 times, which led to 18 Cleveland points.
“That's the game right there,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
In truth, the final score was only a formality.
The Thunder toyed with its opponent for the third time in four games and, this time, it was costly. Two nights earlier, the Thunder needed to overcome a 16-point deficit late in the third quarter to overtake Phoenix, cooling off the Suns with some shutdown fourth-quarter defense. But last Saturday at Atlanta, the Thunder couldn't avoid a seven-point defeat despite facing a short-handed Hawks squad.
Throughout the season, the Thunder has piled up wins despite similar instability, wins at Orlando and at Philadelphia, as well as at home against Denver serving as other recent examples.
On Friday, the Thunder gave up 27 fourth-quarter points on 11-for-21 shooting and watched Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combine to score just 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting in the final period. Against the Magic, Durant alone had 18 in the fourth.
“We've been pulling games out at the end, but it didn't happen tonight,” Ivey said. “You got to be consistent with the effort. We just got to come together and get on the same page.”
The Thunder was establishing itself as a dominant home team but fell to 17-2 because it couldn't contain Cavs rookie guard Kyrie Irving (nine points, 12 assists and one turnover) or create anything on offense.
Durant finished with a game-high 23 points but needed 18 shots while turning it over six times. Westbrook scored 19 points on 17 shots and had only four assists against three turnovers. Serge Ibaka provided energy all night with 13 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots, but Brooks strangely sat him for the entire fourth quarter. James Harden, with 15 points off the bench, was the only other player in double digit scoring. And even he had four turnovers.
The Thunder shot 48.7 percent from the field but its lackadaisical approach was most readily seen in the number of 3-pointers attempted. OKC shot 24 3s, or four fewer than its season-high, which was set in that overtime classic against Denver on Feb. 19.
The consequence of that lack of aggressiveness was a mere 17 free throw attempts, three more than the Thunder's season low.
“We relied on too many perimeter jump shots,” Brooks said.
Brooks also wasn't pleased with the pace with which his team played. Despite holding the Cavs to 41.8 percent shooting, the Thunder scored just 15 points in transition. By comparison, the Thunder had 31 Wednesday against the Suns.
“We were walking the ball up and guys weren't cutting hard,” Brooks said. “Very rarely has that happened to us.”
Ironically, the Thunder had 20 assists on a night in which its offense was stuck in mud, and Durant said that focus on teamwork contributed to the stalled pace.
“We were just trying to make sure everybody touched the ball and played together. That's what we talked about the last few days,” Durant said. “We was just trying to make sure our halfcourt offense was good. When we had opportunities to run we tried to. But we just got to get back to playing our brand of basketball no matter what. Hopefully (Saturday) is different.”