The biggest story from today's game is Nick Collison's apparent ankle injury that leaves him doubtful for Monday's game against the Wizards. Honestly, I didn't notice it, and it's not that huge of a deal considering our next game is against the Wizards, but it is news nonetheless.
A win is a win, and this is one we needed. But this is one of the creepiest games I've ever seen. The Cavaliers are a team with a packed arena and lots of high-dollar sponsorships. But the team is atrocious. Yes, I know this subject has been covered by NBA writers dozens of times, and we're all sick of hearing it. However, looking at the arena towards the end of the season, you can just feel the air of disappointment. While the Thunder are playing around with a tub of gum and drummed their knees on the sideline, the Cavaliers look like they're participating in a funeral procession. While some Thunder fans didn't even bother to watch this game because they considered it an automatic win, Cavaliers fans dragged themselves to the arena early on Sunday just to see their team get whipped.
But the Cavaliers still had top in the air. Fans didn't cascade out of their seats once the game was over, and the team continued to fight well into the fourth quarter. Sure, only the scrubbiest of NBA scrubs were getting time, but they played with heart, just like you'd expect the lovable losers to. It wasn't like the Carlesimo-era Thunder games, where the team would just stop caring and let a 10 point loss quickly turn into a 20 point one. All in all, much respect to Byron Scott for keeping his team's heads up, and much respect to the Cleveland fans for showing up and supporting their team....even if it's only because they were locked into their season ticket plans.
And before you say it, I don't want to hear any crap about us beating the Cavaliers only by 20 points. The Thunder effectively shut the Cavs down in the third, and they could have won by 35 if they wanted to. But the Thunder play with humility, and don't outright destroy their opponents just because they can. I know I'm sounding like a Thunder homer right now, but I speak the truth. Today's game was a comfortable win, and that's what's important. Anyway, let's hit the recap....
Below: The Recap, Future Analysis, Awards!
The Cavaliers started off the game on the right foot, watching Westbrook miss a jumper and then getting to the line shortly after, taking a 1-0 lead. But after that, the game turned into a clinic. The Thunder kept getting wide open jumpers in transition. At one point, Russell Westbrook got the ball stolen from him, but the Cavaliers couldn't get the ball down the floor, so he took the ball right back and scored. Yes, it was that bad, and yes, it looked that bad. In principle, the Cavaliers were keeping up reasonably well, but every score for them looked like it took huge effort, and their missed shots looked really bad. By the end of the first, the game was already getting out of hand. James Harden didn't even have to pump-fake to fool a Cavalier defender, he just had to lift his head as if to say "What's up?". The only Thunder plays that failed were long Durant isolation plays. And the deficit had grown, as the Cavaliers were now down 29 to 14.
The second quarter was mostly more of the same. The Thunder had nearly gotten their lead to twenty when the Cavaliers showed some life with a Manny Harris three. But Eric Maynor immediately responded. From then on it was kind of a back and forth affair, with the Cavaliers scoring on good drives or relatively open threes. They almost made a huge run, but some of their shots would rim out in the silliest possible way. Still, the Cavaliers did get the deficit down to 12 by the half via some great interior defense, leaving the door open for a potential second half run.
That door wasn't immediately shut, and for a while, the Cavaliers were playing just as well as any other NBA team. But they could never crack the ten point barrier, and the Thunder eventually got to rebuilding their lead on some excellent Westbrook drives to the basket. Both teams cooled off toward the end of the quarter, but a couple of Durant drives put the Thunder lead back at 20. A Gibson free throw put the league back down to 19, but that all changed in the fourth when.....
Harden hit another three. The Cavaliers tried to respond, but Manny Harris airballed this three attempt. The game quickly fell further out of the Cavaliers hands, and the Thunder were scoring at will. Royal Ivey came on with about eight and a half minutes left, and at that point, you knew it was over. The rest of the game was garbage time, with the Thunder and Cavaliers having a bit of fun on both ends of the floor.
Moving forward, this win guarantees the Thunder a .500 record at the end of the season, even if they lose the rest of their games. It also keeps them three games ahead of the surging Nuggets in the race for the Northwest Division crown, and keeps them 4.5 games behind the Lakers in the race for the third seed in the conference. Meanwhile, this loss drops the Cavaliers to three games back of the Kings, which is good for them, since they continue to hold the top spot in next year's draft lottery. They also drop 4.5 games back of Washington, the next worst team in the East.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 20 Points, 1 Rebound, 5 Assists, 3 Steals, 1 Block. He had a huge part in the runs that were essential in sealing this game.
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 8 Points, 14 Rebounds, 2 Steals, 7 Blocks. Terrible shooting night, but 7 blocks can't be ignored.
Thunder Blunder: Royal Ivey, 0-2 Shooting and 1 Turnover in 7 Minutes. An airballed three in garbage time? Comeon, Cheese!
Thunder Plunderer: J.J. Hickson, 8 Points, 15 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 1 Steal. An all-out warrior down low.
Next Game: At the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, March 15th, 6 PM Central Standard Time.