Tyronn Lue stated before the Cavs game last night against the Pacers that if Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Lebron James saw significant minutes, there would be a “good possibility” he would sit them on Thursday against the Thunder. Well, just before game time, Coach Lue had a change of heart and decided he would play his “Big 3”.
As I mentioned above, the Cavs were on their second night of a back-to-back, and their third game in four nights… this definitely showed early. The Cavs came out sluggish and sloppy while the Thunder, knowing the Cavs might have tired legs, pushed the tempo leading to easy points in transition.
After forcing shots inside and going 7-26 in his last meeting against the Cavs, Russell Westbrook was looking to get his teammates going early. Tristan Thompson was a force inside in the last matchup, causing Westbrook to alter his shots, while not fouling the Thunder point guard. You could tell Russell remembered what happened last time as he took most of his shots from mid-range and 3 early on, trying to spread the floor to allow for more space to work inside against the Cavs.
Russell’s primary sources of offensive assistance in the first half came from Victor Oladipo (9 points) and Steven Adams (8 points), along with a couple of guys off the Thunder bench. One of those being…. CAMERON PAYNE… He’s back! The Thunder have found an answer to Kanter’s missed offensive production off the bench!!
Alright, I’m exaggerating, but man, Payne played great tonight (15 points on 6-12 shooting). He was aggressive on the offensive end and you could just tell he was feeling it tonight. Along with his scoring, he was finally able to get the offense going. It had seemed to me that he had just been going through the motions out there and not asserting himself into the offense. The Thunder lacked flow and movement with him at the point, but tonight, that was completely different. He scored, he passed, he also ran a couple of nice pick and rolls with Adams who was out there with the reserves. When Russell checked out of the game in the first the score was tied, then the Thunder scored the last 8 points of the quarter with Cam in the game… that’s something you don’t hear very often. It was awesome to see Cam have a great night after receiving a lot of criticism (well deserved) for his play since his return from injury.
On the other side of the ball, Andre Roberson, as he does, played solid defense on Lebron. Now Lebron is still going to get his, he’s an amazing scorer and will get buckets on the best defenders in the league, but Roberson definitely bothers the Cavaliers All-Star. Lebron was also finding ways to get a switch via screen and was going to work on whatever Thunder defender got switched onto him.
The Thunder played decent defense in the first half, but they didn’t have any answers for Kyrie or Lebron, as Kyrie was getting to whatever spot he wanted on the floor with his quickness and absolutely insane handles. In addition, fouls played a huge factor in the first half (and throughout the game) as the Cavaliers were 12-17 from the line in the first half and the Thunder were just 3-5. After a terrible final few minute stretch, the Thunder went into the locker room trailing 57-55.
Coming out of the half, the Thunder looked to pick back up the momentum they were able to create at the beginning of the game. Third quarters have been a problem for OKC of late, but this was not the case tonight. Oladipo, who finished with 23 points and 7 rebounds, and Adams, 20 points and 13 rebounds, continued to make plays on the offensive end. And, speaking of Adams, he was amazing tonight all around. He was able to shut down Tristan Thompson (10 points and 5 rebounds), was an absolute monster on the boards, and played a great game on the offensive end. He played a lot of minutes tonight (39) and he made the most of them.
It looked like the Thunder were starting to run away with this one against the tired Cavaliers’ squad, but, as they have been prone to do, they let the Cavs back into the game. With the scored tied at 99, Russell Westbrook decided to show once again that he has the “clutch” gene. He took over the Thunder offense late in the fourth, scoring inside and from the mid-range. To go along with Russ’s onslaught on that end, the Thunder had a solid block from Jerami Grant, a Russell Westbrook steal and a few other defensive stops that allowed them to extend their lead.
With just a couple of minutes to go, Coach Lue decided to empty his bench and concede this one to the Thunder.
Now I know the Cavs were coming off a game the night before, but this was a great win for this Thunder team. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they came out flat tonight. From not knowing if the Cavs “Big 3” were going to play to looking ahead to the game against the Warriors on Saturday, I wouldn’t have been surprised by a lackluster performance tonight from this Thunder squad. But, they did just the opposite as they showed they wanted this one down the stretch.
- The Cavs were trying to exploit the Love/Sabonis matchup early. Love was unable to connect, but you could see they were looking to expose the young Thunder big. I don’t think Sabonis did a terrible job guarding Love, but Love did miss a few shots that he normally makes.
- Deandre Liggins did not get the start tonight due to a sore tooth…
- The Cavs are 23rd in the league in giving up opponent transition points per game, and coming off a game the night before, it showed early on.
- Abrines with the monster slam in the first. The way he moved the ball to the side to avoid Thompson and bring it back was nice. We’ve seen him get up at times, but this was by far the most impressive. Also, the bench reaction was great.
- I love Russ’s new commercial:
- Derrick Williams on a 10-day contract with the Cavs. He’s a former 2nd overall pick in the draft. The Cavs can run a lineup with 3 of the 4 top picks from the 2011 draft.
- Lebron gonna flop:
- Thunder ball movement was amazing early. Don’t get to say that very often.
- Cam after tonight, probably:
- Roberson was really active on defense tonight, per usual. He had a couple of nice blocks. The way he’s able to use his length on defense is incredible.
- Thompson looks uncomfortable on some shots. Reminds me of how Roberson can look on 3’s.
- Lebron is such a great passer. I know that’s not some new, astounding revelation, but he’s just awesome to watch. He made several great passes out of the post/mid-range:
- Kyrie’s quickness and ball handling was a little too much for both Oladipo and Roberson at times, but I mean, it’s tough for anybody to stay in front of Uncle Drew.
- I’m just gonna say it, the Thunder weren’t getting a lot of calls tonight. Especially early in the game.
- Good to see the Thunder come out and play a solid third quarter. The crowd really got into it in the third too.
- Abrines made some nice passes tonight.
- Russ triple double came on a very strange Oladipo 360 layup. It looked like a shot someone would attempt in a game of horse. Not a smart move, but hey, it went in and Russ has his 26th triple double. Tied for third most in a single-season with the Big O.
Next Up: Do I really have to say it? KD homecoming, Saturday at 7:30 CST. Bring the boos for our old pal Cupcake.