With Oklahoma City down seven players (including three starters) and Cleveland absent of Jarrett Allen and Larry Nance Jr., the Cavaliers outlasted the Thunder 129-102 in the Chesapeake Energy Arena. With Cleveland’s victory, they won Thursday’s battle — but Oklahoma City won the war. Cleveland and Oklahoma City are only separated by half-a-game in the standings yielding 19-32 and 20-32 records respectively. A Thunder win Thursday would’ve netted themselves a 2.5 game advantage over the Cavs — something that management may find less than ideal.
The first frame displayed a full-fledged brawl as sides fought blow-for-blow for a 38-38 finish. The Thunder and Cavs connected on six triples apiece, resulting in a high-intensity duel for all twelve minutes where Oklahoma City and Cleveland shot sixty and fifty-six percent respectively. The period’s fight club environment was embodied in the sunset stages of the frame as Justin Robinson’s left ring finger cut open to result in a two-minute clean-up that garnered a new basketball to be put into play.
Another round of swings took place in the second, however, sides’ jabs came in bunches. The Cavaliers sent a 12-2 haymaker the Thunder’s way by the frame’s midway point to claim an eight-point lead, but a late 8-1 strike evened the judge’s scorecards with a minute to go. Cleveland’s “Sexland” tandem in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland ironed out four straight points to enter their corner up 65-61.
The Thunder’s offense was conducted at peak levels in the first half, shooting in the fifties from the inside (58%) and three (50%.) Oklahoma City’s diverse skillset netted four players in double-digits by half in Moses Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk, Theo Maledon, and Ty Jerome. For the Cavs, their shooting efforts only numbered the high-forties, so how were they up at half you may ask — the charity stripe. Cleveland’s ground-and-pound game garnered the group 33 points in the paint coupled with 16 free throws tries (Oklahoma City’s only attempted 5.)
Michael Cage coined the infancy stages of the third as a “WWF match,” which’s a fair assessment. Moses Brown and Aleksej Pokusevski were clobbered in the post for the first two minutes, and off a Kenrich Williams shrug off, an offensive foul was assessed. Cleveland used Oklahoma City’s disoriented mindset to send a fatal strike by posting an 11-0 run to begin the half. Kenrich Williams became the Thunder’s second player to draw blood, cutting his eye after wrestling with Kevin Love for a loose ball. As Kenrich got bandaged up so did Oklahoma City’s plummeting as they began matching shots once more, but entering the fourth they faced their largest lead down 93-75.
Mark Daigneault used the final period to generate opportunities for the second unit squad. The young bucks accumulated some spurts of greatness (including a Moses Brown-Tony Bradley rotation), but Cleveland ended up taking care of business, climbing as high as 29 before their win became official.
Cleveland outscored Oklahoma City 64-41 in the second half to bolster their victory.
“They came out of halftime ready to go, way more so than us,” Daigneault said. “I thought they just kind of wore us down.”
The Cavs netted three players over the twenty-point mark in Collin Sexton (27,) Tauren Prince (22,) and Darius Garland (22.) The free-throw line remained their savior shooting 20-of-24 at the line to the Thunder’s 9-of-13 attempts.
Oklahoma City netted seven players in double-digits, continuing to spread the love en route to 28 assists. Ty Jerome boasted a career-high 23 points (9-of-16 FG) tacking on 3 rebounds and 3 assists. In April, the sophomore has been frigid from distance but it appears that the chapter may have closed, shooting 5-of-9 Thursday. Moses Brown trumped Cleveland’s frontcourt of Kevin Love and Dean Wade, brute-forcing his way inside for 13 points (6-of-10 FG) and 11 rebounds, good for his seventh double-double this year. Two-way acquisition Jaylen Hoard still has not tallied single-digits in a Thunder uniform, this time capping his night with 12 points (4-of-9 FG) and 5 rebounds. For the second-straight contest, Hoard became a foul magnet. The 22-year-old took a nosedive right into the Cavaliers’ defense all night, resulting in a team-high six free throw attempts — canning four. Kenrich Williams posted an all-around effort with 12 points (5-of-9 FG,) 7 rebounds, and 9 assists, a career total he nabbed last game. Theo Maledon scored 14 points, while Aleksej Pokusevski racked in 10; however, neither of them converted shot into the forties.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (20-32) will take a one-day break before continuing their homestand Saturday versus the Philadelphia 76ers (35-16.)