Oklahoma City Thunder (28-20) 91
Cleveland Cavaliers (32-14) 107
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.
- But 5.0 turnovers. [↩]