Ping-pong balls — It’s something that both fanbases, in some fashion or another, have tried to equate to both the Thunder’s and Cavaliers’ successes on the floor the entire season. None of the outside noise mattered tonight as both sides participated in a well-fought match that saw the Thunder oust the Cavaliers 117-101. For the Thunder, this victory erased their three-game losing streak to advance to 12-18 on this season. For the Cavaliers, their losing streak has been extended to 10 with the defeat, currently sitting at 10-20 on the season.
Out the gate, Collin Sexton didn’t shy away from the floor, scoring the Cavs’ first seven points on the night helping to build a quick 20-10 run. Oklahoma City shifted gears on Clevaland, gunning back on a 21-8 run off 9-of-11 shooting to capture the lead 31-28 through one. The officials’ whistles were chirping to the tune of 6 fouls in the quarter, enabling the Thunder’s nonstop slough of dribble penetrations to work to perfection.
Oklahoma City’s bench stepped up big in the start of the second with 17 straight team points. Hamidou Diallo looked in his element slashing inside adding onto his 7 first quarter points, MIke Muscala was cashing in jumpers, and Isaiah Roby was putting his body on the line — quite literally — taking a shot in a sensitive place in trying to draw a charging foul. Cleveland made an attempt to match styles of gritty play, shooting 10 of their 18 shots in the quarter inside— it was nowhere close to enough. The Thunder starters plugged right back into the rotation toppling up a lead as high as 12, falling to 62-51 at half.
Lousy play from the Cavaliers allowed for the Thunder to take a double-digit leave at half, as their 10 turnovers and 12 fouls proved to be costly. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ran rampant racking up 8 free throws by half. For perspective, Cleveland shot just 13 as a unit.
The third quarter was a showcase for both sides as neither of the leading players were giving up any sort of ground. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder scoring in the quarter, pushing through 10 points on a variety of triples and drives, while contributing to hit open teammates for easy looks. Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen became the Cavs one-two punch in quarter, three corralling 14 points. Though Allen and Garland made noise throughout the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, it was not enough as the Thunder led 86-75 entering the fourth.
Mike Muscala jumped out as an initiator early filling in for SGA. The 29-year-old ironed out 5 points in the first 3 minutes, including a push shot over a backpedaling Dylan Windler to help bolster the team while Theo Maledon also helped the cause splashing two quick-fire threes to make a 13-5 run. Cleveland made a push in the final period to try to levy a comeback, but it came too late, finding themselves down 20 at its worst point off of an assortment of Oklahoma City conversions.
Cleveland ran their offense solely off of the starting unit on Sunday, looking to the bench for just 9 points. In the second unit’s lack of production, a three-headed demon spawned in Collin Sexton, Jarrett Allen, and Darius Garland. Collin Sexton led the Cavs in scoring with 27 points on 11-22 shooting, using drawn out attacks inside for baskets. Jarrett Allen gave Oklahoma City the Moses Brown treatment, posting 26 points and 17 rebounds without breaking a sweat. Allen found all his makes right around the cup lofting the ball up for a perfect 11-of-11 from the floor, while also outrebounding the entire Thunder squad offensively 9-to-5. Darius Garland made 7 of his 14 attempts to crack 20 points on the night, being used as the team’s main playmaker with 8 assists.
Oklahoma City had the upper-hand in every major shooting statistic, downing 54% of two’s, nailing 46% of threes, and getting to the charity stripe 24 times. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was coined an All-Star by multiple teammates after Sunday’s contest, hitting home 31 points, 4 rebounds, and 9 assists in 36 minutes. SGA kept the Cavaliers guessing the entire game. The 22-year-old used stepbacks to knock down all three of his triples, he used his elite acceleration to take men 1-on-1, and capped it all off his his change of direction to digest 12 attempts at the line. Al Horford lost the battle of rebounds (snagging 8), but shooting wise he stacked up with the best of them posting 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Hamidou Diallo electrified the roster going for 15 points on a perfect 5-of-5 off all drives, sneaking in 9 attempts at the line, downing 5. Theo Maledon took the sniper status early triggering off 14 points on 5-of-7 from the floor. The rookie was left open numerous times from downtown as a result of Gilgeous-Alexander’s deadly drives, Shai made sure to take note, getting him 3 triples on 4 tries. Mike Muscala matched Maledon’s on deep ranges, hitting 3 of his own off 9 shots. Muscala stayed relatively quiet letting others set him up, directly leading to his 13 points off the bench. Lu Dort managed to rack up 10 points on Sunday, but his 4-of-10 shooting on well set up drives left fans wanting more from the sophomore. Darius Bazely didn’t look like his usual self on Sunday, opting for a full-on buzz-cut. The new hairstyle took some adjusting, same can be said with his play. Bazley made strides to get into motion, but he never got locked in, going just 2-of-7 on the night for 4 points.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (12-18) will get back into the motions tomorrow, as they complete their back-to-back set at home against the Miami Heat (13-17.) Get your popcorn ready, first-round picks will be in play.