A Winning Streak! Thunder-Cavs, Behind the Box Score

BtBS Behind the Box Score WFNY

Oklahoma City Thunder (28-20) 91
Cleveland Cavaliers (32-14) 107
Box Score

Whoo-Hoo! The Cleveland Cavaliers have a winning streak! (Still) In the midst of January swoon, the Cavaliers had a refreshing win against the [contemplates the appropriate slightly dismissive adjective] … legitimate Oklahoma City Thunder.

It was actually a sneaky-good sports weekend overall: the ordinary basketball slate plus Kansas-Kentucky, Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams, the rekindling of the Federer-Nadal rivalry in the Australian Open with an epic match that began around 3:30 a.m. ET, the Farmers Insurance Open (golf), the winter X Games, and Cavs-Thunder on Sunday afternoon. If, like me, you tried to enjoy all of these events at various commitment levels, good luck paying off your vicious sleep debt (plus interest) over the next several days. I’m already experiencing a moderate level of debilitating fatigue and delirium, so it should be a great week.

Anyway, the Cavs won. Let’s talk about it.

25/14/8 – LeBron James finished Sunday’s game against the Thunder with 25 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists. Lost in the recent ongoing drama and annual Great Cavaliers January Freakout is how awesome LeBron James has been offensively of late. Over his last five games, James is averaging 27.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 9.8 assists, and 1.4 steals1 on 59.1 percent shooting. And as WFNY’s Andrew Schnitkey has pointed out recently, it’s not like James is “taking over” games; but kind of picking his spots. And he’s still been incredible on offense, almost casually. Against the Thunder, James went to the hoop at will, and even felt insulted when the Thunder didn’t send a double team when James bullied Cameron Payne down on the block complete with a nice elbow to Payne’s chest.

One final note: Am I the only one who kind of likes pissy LeBron? Granted, his passive-aggressiveness can be frustrating at times. But even if his criticisms of the front office are slightly unfair, now that the Cavs have won a ring I kind of like when James is perpetually irritated that the team doesn’t have more contributors and isn’t playing better. The dude leads the league in minutes per game! At 32! And he wants to win! He’s the beneficiary of fewer calls than any superstar in the league! He cares! I secretly love that James is generally irascible in these lame winter months.

29 & 10 – Kyrie Irving had another double-double on Sunday, scoring 29 points on 12-of-22 (54.5 percent) shooting with 10 assists. I was fairly worried after Irving’s hamstring injury that his dynamite passing in December was an anomaly, but at home it appears that the “new” scoring and passing Irving may be a permanent fixture. Since December 17, Irving is averaging 9.2 assists at home (only 4.4 on the road). That’s great! His patience on the pick-and-roll to toy with defenders until Tristan Thompson breaks free has been exceptional. Irving only has 28 double-digit assist games in his career, and seven of them are from this season, a rate which is more than double than what he demonstrated in his career entering this season.

Much virtual ink has been spilt over Irving’s “value” or worth among the league’s great players, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that Kyrie Irving is awesome and an awesome offensive weapon — plain and simple. There was a three-possession spurt in the third quarter during which Irving unleashed a disgusting Euro step (above), then exploited Alex Abrines with a gorgeous hesitation move off a crossover dribble, and scored another bucket. Irving was excellent on Sunday.

91 – The Cavaliers only allowed 91 points on Sunday. This was the first game in which the Cavs allowed less than 100 points since January 2. Yes, January 2. It was the only time they’ve held an opponent under the century mark in 13 games. Over the last three years, the Cavs are 90-19 (82.5 percent) in games holding their opponents to 100 or fewer points. More on this in a moment.

7-of-26 – Russell Westbrook shot 7-of-26 from the field on Sunday, a dismal 26.9 percent. As a team, the Thunder were only able to muster 37.0 percent. Some of this was attributable to the Cavs defense, but not much in my opinion. The Cavaliers played better than they have of late on Sunday after the first half (they allowed 10 fast break points in the half), but if Westbrook (who notched his first career triple-double versus the Cavs on Sunday) hits a few more shots, then this game may have played out much differently. Granted, after the way Terrence Jones, Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, and Aaron Affalo played against the Cavs of late, they were due for opponent to punch below their weight, but I’m of the opinion that their defense wasn’t spectacular on Sunday.

1-of-7 – Although he’s shooting fine (43.5 percent from three, entering Sunday), Kyle Korver doesn’t feel totally integrated into the team yet. Korver shot only 1-of-7 (14.3 percent) against the Thunder, and the Cavs shot only 27.6 percent from three (8-of-29 as a team). The Cavs have the third best three-point shooting team in the league, and I think that once Korver is fully assimilated and the team reaches its equilibrium after all the continuity disruptions, they should still be able to outscore virtually all the teams in the NBA.

12 – Kevin Love only played 12 minutes on Sunday after some renewed back spasms. I feel it’s in the best interest of the Cavs to just sit Love for a week to rest and ease back into shape, because he has not been the same player since the flu/food poisoning/tapeworm episode he had in December. They need him healthy.

4.5 – Thunder big-man Joffrey (no, not that Joffrey) Lauvergne (pronounced LA-vern) has a last name with a letter-to-syllable ratio of 4.5, which I speculate is one of the highest ratios in the league. It just seems like there are several superfluous letters in that last name. Leave it to the French to take nine letters to get to two syllables.

  1. But 5.0 turnovers. []

  • JNeids

    Some observations after attending the game yesterday, many/most of which agree with/repeat what Kyle said above:

    -The first quarter worried me greatly. We couldn’t hit shots, we were sloppy with the ball, we were allowing easy transition buckets…
    -…and then the rest of the game happened. Lebron started Q2 with his bench squad and I was worried that the Thunder would pull away, but they didn’t! They were able to keep the game close until the starters re-entered to close out the half.
    -I’ve said it before, but Kyrie is so much fun to watch. We talk about how lucky we are to be able to watch Lebron play – I feel the same way about Kyrie. Dude is just a magician with the ball. I could care less if he is overrated, underrated, a superstar or not, his game is basketball porn.
    -TT played like a man yesterday, and I feel like it’s the first time he’s done that in a while. Granted I haven’t been able to watch every game, but I feel like he hasn’t been dominating the boards like he did last season. Yesterday he really made his presence felt everywhere on the court, and even knocked down a 15 footer!! Find that gif!
    -Maybe one of the reasons TT stepped up was because Love went out. Even when he was in the game, you could tell something was wrong – he was just moving so gingerly. He just hasn’t been himself since he got sick. I would really like to see him skip the ASG and get some rest. We need him healthy and playing like he was the first half of the season.
    -Speaking of not himself, when is Korver gonna start shooting like he always has against us? He’s had, what, one good game? Now I totally understand he hasn’t been on the team that long, but just watching yesterday, he knocked down his first shot and then missed a bunch he normally makes. Whatever it takes, he needs to get it going.
    -The team as a whole hasn’t been shooting well from deep lately, but it’s nice to see Shump knock some down. He has been kinda up and down this season, but when he’s up, it does a lot for the team. But once JR comes back, Shump won’t have the luxury of playing with the starters to generate his open looks.

  • JNeids

    Also, Kyle, if I learned anything from Major League, it’s that we need to win one more to start a winning streak. Right now we’re only at two in a row.

  • RGB
  • Harv

    Barely basketball comments:

    – LeBron and teammates are barely relating in these tense times. Little joy on court or bench. ALHR (Average Length of Handshake Routine) down a full .63 seconds. My working theory is something happened on the last road trip. Maybe involving Delonte and another player’s female relative. Or they’re all really sick of each other.

    – How is it that when the Cavs fall flat in a big game toward the end of an exhausting road trip where guys get injured, that’s the reason. When OKC does, the reason is the Cavs superior play, with nary a mention of the opponent. Actually, I get it, all news is local.

    – An MRI for Kevin Love’s back is worrisome. There’s no reason unless he’s getting some symptoms that imply disc/nerve involvement: leg tingling/numbness, leg weakness and the like. If it’s negative, shut him down for a few weeks.

    – Why was LeBron playing extended stretches up 15 points? Almost like Lue doesn’t even know anymore when it’s ok to sit your star. And even if he wants to play, when he throws up consecutive heat check 3s, that’s a teaching moment, Tyronn. Even if it only teaches who’s coach.

    – I’ve decided: Kyrie is the most ridiculous one-on-one player I’ve ever seen. Maravich was out of his mind but in a more fast break Globetrotters way. Speaking of which, that handle reminds me a whole of them.

  • “I could care less if he is overrated, underrated, a superstar or not, his game is basketball porn.”

    This! It’s so easy to get distracted by pointless debates about Kyrie’s place in the game. Who cares? Kyrie is so much fun to watch play. We can just enjoy getting to delight in his skills without getting bogged down by the outside noise.

  • JNeids

    Thanks for not pointing out that it should be “couldN’T care less.” The CGP (Comment Grammar Police) must have been snowed in this morning.

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