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Thunder vs Cavaliers, final score: OKC defense snuffs out Cleveland, 100-83

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OKC’s defense turned things around in the 2nd half, leading to the blowout win.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Oklahoma City Thunder Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

box score | Fear the Sword

The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers at home, 100-83. Cleveland, already without their All-Star power forward Kevin Love, also got word that Kyle Korver was being shipped to Utah and therefore did not suit up. While his presence likely would not have mattered, it made Cleveland’s struggle all the greater facing a Thunder team looking to regain its footing after losing to Denver.

The Thunder came out cold and reckless in the 1st quarter, quickly falling behind. However, OKC responded to a rocky first half where, after falling behind by double digits, they finally found ways to put the ball in the basket. The Thunder finished the 2nd quarter on a 13-5 run, capped by a Jerami Grant 3-pointer, which led to a 47-47 tie at the half.

Russell Westbrook rebounded well from the Denver fiasco, hitting the triple-double mark once again midway through the third quarter. Russ finished with one of those “that’s just what he does” kinds of stat lines: 23 points, 15 assists, 19 rebounds, and 2 steals. This kind of outing shows Westbrook’s one-of-a-kind value. Furthermore, it offers some insight — when he goes hard after rebounds and setting other players up for shots (and his teammates missed at least half a dozen more open looks off of his passes), Westbrook’s energy almost always ends in something positive. However, when he goes hard after trying to get shots to fall, it ends up a disaster, as we saw against the Nuggets.

More than anything, this win felt like the Thunder were playing against themselves — a version of who they are against who they want to be. Even though the box score won’t bear it out, after the sloppy 1st quarter OKC was highly committed to pursuing a specific kind of focus, getting the ball into the post, creating open looks for shooters, and with consistent defense. And they stayed committed to it throughout. While the shots didn’t fall tonight (6-27 from three) it should bode well that the looks they created were both intentional and consistently open.

OKC plays the Hawks next, where they will again have a chance to test this new model of attack.

Quick shots

  • Jerami Grant’s strong performance — 21 points, 5 boards, 4 blocks — is the continued consistency OKC needs at the power forward spot, at least on offense. Even better, he is looking more and more comfortable finishing plays, regardless of whether it is Westbrook, George, Adams, or someone else setting him up.
  • Steven Adams had a relatively quiet night, but his duties were largely assigned to slowing down Tristan Thompson, which he did in spades. Thompson in 35 minutes scored 4 points and grabbed 2 rebounds.
  • Along with Westbrook, Paul George spent most of the night dialing his game back (only two 3-point attempts!) and looked to help his teammates establish themselves better.
  • The Thunder defense was largely on point after the 1st quarter, and in the 2nd half held Cleveland to 36 points on 35% shooting and 23% from three. OKC continues to challenge shots well on the perimeter while doing an excellent job protecting the paint. They recorded 11 blocks on the night, an impressive feat against a team featuring Thompson and Larry Nance Jr., one of which was this bad boy by Deonte Burton:
  • Speaking of Deonte, another strong outing. In 16 minutes, Burton finished with 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 blocks on 3-6 shooting, and I think what is really helping his performance is that he doesn’t have a lot of wasted motion. He moves the ball if he doesn’t have an open look or driving lane, but when there is space, he’s got an explosive first step (and last step) that helps him finish.
  • The team worked really, really, REALLY hard to get Alex Abrines going, and I applaud that, after Abrines has missed so much time and not looked like himself in a while. It is unfortunate he just couldn’t find the range, missing multiple wide open looks and finishing 1-8 from three.
  • Westbrook: a career 107 triple-doubles, tying Jason Kidd for 3rd overall. Next up — Magic Johnson at 138.

Next game: vs Atlanta Hawks on Friday, Nov. 30 at 7PM CST