In a game that was a struggle to the very end, the Oklahoma City Thunder have fallen to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 100-104. The lead changed hands several times, and there was no point where it felt like either team was in total control. However, the Cavaliers were able to establish dominance from the early fourth quarter on. The Thunder simply committed too many turnovers, allowed too many offensive rebounds, and didn't have their pick and roll offense up to par. Russell Westbrook had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but it was only because of his own prior heroics.
LeBron James was the man of the match for the Cavaliers tonight, notching a near triple-double with 33 points, 11 assists, and 9 rebounds. It was obvious that LeBron saw this as an important game, as he was shouting in frustration at various points in the evening. LeBron even went into a tirade directed at the refs during the third quarter, angry about the lack of calls under the basket. Nevertheless, Steven Adams deserves credit for stopping LeBron James more than once while playing help defense.
Why were the Cavaliers able to win this game?
Overall, the Thunder just couldn't contain LeBron James. Kevin Durant had to expend a lot of energy on James defensively while also taking a huge number of shots. This lead Billy Donovan to rely on Kyle Singler to guard LeBron for long stretches of the second and fourth quarter. Singler was somewhat effective at times. But really, Singler was a wash on defense while hurting OKC's offense. So arguably, Donovan's countering LeBron with Singler was wasted time.
The Cavaliers also got a huge amount of help from their three point shooting. The Thunder did a poor job of tracking the ball from side to side, and couldn't cover the arc in transition. The suspects for allowing the open threes are whom you'd expect: Westbrook, Waiters, Ibaka. The guards were too busy looking for steals, while Ibaka was too busy guarding the paint. Either way, the Cavaliers were able to move the ball effectively to Dellevedova, Jefferson, and Love.
Tristan Thompson had 11 offensive rebounds, mainly because that's all he does and the Thunder were protecting the rim. The Thunder really struggled with offensive rebounds as a team, but were very good about not giving up free point in the paint afterwards. Rather, the offensive rebounds killed the Thunder because the Cavaliers were able to kick it out for three. This happened three times last night for a total of 9 points.
Ibaka's banner game
Serge Ibaka was destroying opponents during the third quarter, scoring 12 points during that time with no missed shots or turnovers. I really liked that Durant and Westbrook made a concerted effort to set up Ibaka, after Ibaka had a so-so first half. Ibaka's been quiet over the past three games, and I was worried about issues with his confidence. In any case, Ibaka was matched up against Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, both of whom are more worried about rebounds than they are defense. As such, Ibaka was able to get a bunch of great looks on the weak side and in the pick and roll.
Ibaka was almost as strong during the fourth quarter, hitting a couple of shots in pick and roll action with KD and Westbrook. In all honesty, the second half couldn't have gone more perfectly for him, and I don't know if the Thunder could have done anything more to set Ibaka up. Ibaka was involved in all of the plays, acting as the main screen setter throughout the fourth.
Great defense from Ibaka as well. I was impressed with Ibaka's ability to both cover Kevin Love at the three point line while also locking down the paint. It's this type of versatility that makes Ibaka such a special defender. Love didn't even try to create any of his own points against Ibaka after the first half.
KD: A Sad Saga
This started out as a dream game for Kevin Durant. It started out with KD hitting twice from three, as teammates set him up off of set plays. Later in the first, KD played the role of adept ball handler, dishing it around screens and taking advantage of mismatches. By the end of the first, Durant had 14 points on 66% shooting, with 2 assists. LeBron only had 9.
The second quarter was a different story. As soon as KD entered the game, he missed a turnaround jumper against LeBron. That led to a runout Cavs dunk, and Thunder timeout. Two possessions later, KD miscommunicated with Ibaka on a pick and roll, losing the ball. Two possessions after that, KD missed a bad shot off a screen. All in all, those three bad possessions were part of a Cavalier run that let Cleveland back in the game. KD only had one more possession in the second, scoring on JR Smith around a screen.
The third quarter was up and down for KD. 1 of 3 shooting with 2 turnovers, but also 4 of 4 from the line with 2 assists. So it all comes out as a bit of a wash. Durant got to play against J.R. Smith during the early portion of the quarter, while playing against Richard Jefferson for the latter portion of the quarter. Generally speaking KD did a good job of being aggressive. Unfortunately, KD couldn't hit either of his threes, he accidentally stepped out of bounds in the corner, and he lost the ball when trying to pass it down low to Kanter.
The fourth quarter was a complete nightmare. 1 of 5 shooting, 2 of 2 from the line, 1 turnover and 1 assist. Part of it was the presence of LeBron James, whom guarded KD for the early part of the fourth and the final three. But really, KD couldn't even produce when matched up with Jefferson. All of the shots that KD took were bad. A three that was met around a screen by Thompson. A face-up shot right in the face of LeBron. An unbalanced turnaround against Richard Jefferson. And a potentially game-tying three that was completely guarded by LeBron. The worst moment was probably at the 2:10 mark, when KD was too slow to meet a pass around a screen, resulting in a turnover.
KD looked tired, and the Thunder's offense looked really simplistic. I don't think Donovan made the right call in riding Durant for 41 minutes, despite the fact that he had breaks in both halves. It's clear that Durant can't handle those types of minutes regularly in terms of his long-term health. Plus, Durant is much less likely to perform well at the tail end of long games.
But the worst part about it all? Donovan left KD to guard LeBron for the majority of the game. Singler had Lebron for maybe 20-30% of the time. That's too much for KD to handle when he's expected to carry such a large offensive load and play so many minutes. Roberson certainly would have been a good alternative, and I'm not sure why Donovan thought it was a better idea to have Roberson lock up J.R. Smith. By the way, Westbrook only played 34 minutes compared to KD's 41. Words cannot express how puzzled I am.
- Absolutely superb game from Russell Westbrook. Westbrook had the easy matchup on Dellavedova the entire game, due to the injury to Mo Williams. Westbrook was able to bully himself to whatever position he wanted, and Dellavedova spent the whole time trying not to get called for fouls. It was easy for Westbrook to pull up for easy shots around screens, whip passes down low, and get to the basket in transition. Really, the game couldn't have been more perfect for Westbrook. Westbrook shot 55% from the field, and had only 4 turnovers. And when you look at the turnovers, two of them were offensive charges in transition. Another turnover still came when Westbrook had to pass the ball whil sitting on the floor.
- Horrific night from Dion Waiters. First off, he had 7 shots and no assists. Secondly, three of Waiters' missed shots were open catch and shoot threes. Thirdly, the other three of Waiters' missed shots were all missed stepbacks from the top of the key. The last missed stepback was so bad that it gave the Cavaliers a fast break opportunity, and Waiters was sent out of the game permanently shortly after. Singler was given Waiters normal crunch time minutes. Also, if this wasn't all bad enough, Waiters was 2 of 4 at the line. Talk about an off-night against your old team. (Kanter wasn't much better against Utah.)
- LeBron subbed himself out early in the first so he could play against the bench. I'd say this move was pretty meh, as it allowed OKC's starters to go on a run. Then LeBron came back in against OKC's bench and flipped the script. But OKC's bench actually made a run to start the second, and LeBron could barely fit himself in another break before the half.
- Kanter actually had a somewhat solid night defensively. Kanter made a commitment to protecting the rim and stopped LeBron more than once. I also like that Kanter was willing to let Varejao shoot, which paid off. Surprisingly, it was the offensive end where Kanter struggled tonight. There were a couple of nice pick and roll plays, and it was nice to see Kanter work with Augustin again. Bottom line though: Kanter had only 4 shots in 18 minutes. Why Waiters continually gets more shots, I'll never know.
- Nick Collison hit a floater today, which was probably the most advanced guard-like offensive shot that I've ever seen him hit. But Collison also gave up a four point play to Kevin Love to start the fourth quarter, after OKC's starters had done such a good job to contain Love all game.
- Kyle Singler actually did a somewhat decent job guarding LeBron tonight. Generally, Singler stuck on LeBron and didn't let him get inside. But LeBron always seemed to be able to draw double teams on Singler specifically, and get a ton of assists. Offensively, Singler totally stayed out of the way during set plays, but was really heady when things broke down or the Thunder were in transition. 2 assists and 2 steals isn't bad. But no shots taken? Comeon.
- D.J. Augustin was involved in moving the ball tonight, and I think that's very important. 3 assists and no turnovers is nice, as was his score off a Kanter screen. But Augustin shot 1 of 5 from the field, and had trouble dealing with the size of Dellavedova/Cunningham around screens.
- Steven Adams was a big part of the Thunder's paint defense, and contributed to the Thunder's runs early on with his usual pick and roll work with Westbrook. Adams technically lost a couple of possessions with a bad pass off of an oboard and an illegal screen in the fourth. But I felt like OKC's offense stranded him both times. Mostly, I admire Adams for staying in the game despite having five fouls for the final 5:05.
- Andre Roberson couldn't contain J.R. Smith's dribble shots on the weak side wing early on, but eventually found his footing. Nice to see him hit a corner three again, as well as get his usual basket in transition.
- The Thunder's paint defense was very impressive. The Cavaliers were 14 of 28 in the paint overall, but the Thunder had a lot of successful stuffs of the pick and roll. But the Thunder's pick and roll defense really fell apart in the fourth quarter, as OKC allowed 5 successful shots at the rim during that time.
- The Thunder turned the ball over 5 times in the fourth quarter, despite having a relatively low number of 12 turnovers on the night.
- Did Steven Adams and Kyle Singler even exist for those last five minutes of offense? I don't think so.
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka, for a perfect second half
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, floor general. Seriously, his decision making is next level.
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, who needs some new moves
Thunder Plunderer: Angry LeBron James, who took over his team in the fourth for better or for worse. (Mostly worse, but he still won.)
Next Game: Versus the Los Angeles Lakers, Saturday, December 19th, 4 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!