The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road, 148-124. In an offensive waterfall that seems a distant solar system away from such offensive struggles in the past, OKC jumped on the Eastern Conference champs early and often, leading 43-24 after a quarter and 76-60 at halftime. It confirmed once again that when the light switch is ON, OKC is a formidable opponent.
Most importantly, with the ghastly 3rd quarter specter following them like a Scooby Doo episode, the Thunder didn’t wilt even as their lead dropped to 12 with 2:12 remaining in the quarter. They hit the gas again and finished it out on a 10-2 run, pushing the lead back to 20. And even with the game’s outcome all but determined, closed it out strong in the 4th by posting another 34 points to finish 1 point shy of their franchise high water mark.
The Thunder starting 5, so often struggling to all get on the same page at the same time, had no such troubles in Cleveland. What could have been this, turned into this. First man up was Steven Adams, world famous center who had no peer in the middle all afternoon. Adams set the stage early and often, and only mid-game foul trouble kept him in check. Adams was followed up by Paul George, who has had some epic battles against LeBron James in the past, and clearly got the best of him this time out. George finished the first half with 25 on 8-11 shooting, and ended the game with 36, including 5-11 from 3-point range in only 32 minutes. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony, an official member of the banana boat gang, started off slow but heated up late and was a crucial buoy when OKC looked like it might falter. Melo finished with 29 on 11-19 shooting, once again doing a great job off the catch-and-shoot, but also finishing strong around the rim and pulling down 10 boards.
Oh, and as for the reigning MVP and once again not-starter in the All-Star game? Russell Westbrook finished with 23 points and 20(!) assists, finishing 1 rebound shy of a triple-double. He set up everyone early and often, leading to the rout.
In total, the OKC4 finished with a staggering 113 points on 44-68 shooting. Add in Andre Roberson, and the starting five had 121 points with no player going for more than 35 minutes in the game.
PG, Russ and Melo combined for 88 points in the Thunder's 148(!)-124 rout over the Cavs pic.twitter.com/b9z010ESRA— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 20, 2018
The Thunder defense set the tone early, holding the Cavs to 39% shooting in the opening frame to start the onslaught. And a good thing too, because when OKC commits to their pressure defense, even for limited stretches, it’s like they’re arming themselves with the Sword of 1000 Truths. The effort gave them the padding they needed for the rest of the mostly defense-free game.
Cleveland’s bench was the one of the few bright spots for making the game competitive, as they collectively finished the 1st half with 30 points on 10-14 shooting, including 12 trips to the free throw line. Aside from Raymond Felton, the OKC bench still struggles to run anything resembling a coherent offense. It was a reminder that, even with the impressive win, there are still certain elements of their performance that need improvement and, had George not had the hot hand early, or had Kevin Love been able to play the full game, things could have gone much differently.
- The Thunder revealed two massive weaknesses of the Cavs - their porous interior defense (as noted in the preview) and their lack of rebounding, as they were hammered on the glass, 52-28. Adams and Melo led the way with 10 boards each, and the team grabbed 16 of their own misses.
- Westbrook was a master floor general who executed the game plan perfectly. He challenged the smaller Isaiah Thomas whenever he needed to, but for the most part played a mini-LeBron style, setting up in the post and then hitting his shooters on the wings. Russ’ shot chart:
- But speaking of Thomas, great to see him getting back into the groove. The league is more fun with him around.
- Rookie Terrence “Drop Bear” Ferguson had 2 more impressive dunks on the afternoon, and that just makes me smile. The kid finished with 9 on 4-5 shooting.
Terrance Ferguson. Finish Him! pic.twitter.com/xpjAel7cr9— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) January 20, 2018
- James, in pursuit of his 30,000th career point, was denied by the Thunder defense, finishing with only 18 on the night, 7 short of the goal.
Paul George on if he was aware LeBron needed 25 for 30,000, and if that was a little extra motivation defensively: “I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets he had so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.” pic.twitter.com/aUuEzoPY1E— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 21, 2018
- Derrick Rose, once Rookie of the Year and league MVP, now looks like a character from The Wire. Is that unfair? Probably, but I can’t help myself.