Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony returned from injury after missing two games with sprained ankles as the Oklahoma City Thunder fell at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers 120-112.
The game started off neck at neck as both the Thunder and the Cavaliers were able to put up points with ease. The way the points came, however, was very different for each squad. For the Thunder, they looked to the paint as Steven Adams poured in 11 points and grabbed five rebounds.
Russell Westbrook chipped in six points and four assists, and Paul George and Carmelo Anthony scored five and four points respectively, but despite the ability to score, the Thunder struggled to defend. The Cavs got hot early from beyond the arc, shooting 5/9 from three, and after 12 minutes, the Cavs led the Thunder 29-28.
The second quarter proved to be much of the same for Cleveland as they managed to hit 5/10 from three to improve to 10/19 for the first half. Carmelo Anthony scored seven points and Paul George scored six to bring their totals to 11 points apiece, and despite trailing by 11 with under two minutes left in the quarter, the Thunder managed to cut the deficit and enter halftime down 62-57.
Oklahoma City’s defense could not get a stop to start the second half as Lebron James broke loose for 15 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter, leading the Cavs to a 79-68 lead. James would finish the period with 17 points on 7/10 from the field, and the Cavs continued with the hot hand as they shot 4/11 from three.
The Thunder would push back, and they even took an 82-81 lead with 3:28 to go in the quarter as Paul George scored nine points; Russell Westbrook put up eight points, three assists, and three rebounds; Carmelo Anthony scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds; and Steven Adams continued his down low domination with six points and five rebounds.
Despite the output from the starters, the second unit managed only one point in the third, and Cleveland finished the third quarter with a 91-87 advantage over Oklahoma City.
The fourth quarter was do or die for the Thunder, and with the starters on the bench, Jerami Grant scored a quick layup to start things off. It looked like Oklahoma City was still in it, but Cleveland’s newly reinforced bench pushed the Cavs to an 11-point lead just three-and-a-half minutes in. The Thunder never got within five the rest of the way as Cleveland’s bench scored 25 of the Cavs’ 29 fourth quarter points to put Oklahoma City away for good.
3 Quick Thoughts
- Where Is the Bench At?: After an explosive performance from a number of Thunder role players on Sunday, Oklahoma City’s second unit looked like they were up to the task of taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Not a single Thunder bench player finished in the positive +/-, and collectively, they scored only 20 points. Jerami Grant had a solid game with 14 points and six rebounds, but he was a team worst -19 in +/-. Raymond Felton had six points and three assists, but Josh Huestis and Patrick Patterson, the only other role players to see play time, were mostly ineffective statistically. Defensively, the bench was awful, allowing Cleveland’s second unit to dominate, and it put the Thunder in a bad position of playing from behind. Sam Presti undoubtedly has to make a move to sign someone in the buyout market, because the current lineup is just not consistent enough at this point.
- Defense Needs Fixed…Fast: A number of excuses can be made for the Thunder’s inability to get stops tonight, but the biggest issue with the defense was effort, and there is no excuse for that. The Cavaliers flat out outhustled and outplayed the Thunder, and it showed throughout the game. Cleveland outscored Oklahoma 14-9 in transition points, and the Cavs managed to shoot 16/36 (44.4%) from three. The Thunder has to be more committed on the defensive end, or they will stand no chance against any team in the West in the playoffs.
- Keep Things in Perspective: Tonight’s loss was rough. The Thunder has lost six of the last eight games and three of the last four at home. As of now, Oklahoma City needs to focus on getting a win tomorrow in Memphis and take advantage of the All-Star Break and get some rest. Playoffs are still two months away, and the Thunder still has 24 games to play. A lot can happen between now and then, and right now, Oklahoma City needs to just take it a game at a time and finish the season playing the best basketball that they can possibly put together.
The Road To Memphis
The Oklahoma City Thunder now heads back out on the road to play the second half of a back-to-back against Grizzlies in Memphis. The Thunder handily defeated the Grizzlies on Sunday 110-92, but the last time they were in Memphis, they narrowly escaped with a 102-101 overtime victory. Oklahoma City obviously wants to get a win, but they also want to safely make it to the All-Star Break and enjoy some much needed rest. Tip-off is set for 7 PM and will be televised on FSOK. The game will also be broadcast on WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and like us on Facebook.