Almost Had It: Cavs-Thunder, Behind the Box Score

BtBS Behind the Box Score WFNY

Cleveland Cavaliers (36-16) 109
Oklahoma City Thunder (31-23) 118
Box Score

After submitting for the Academy’s consideration a game-of-the-season candidate on Monday against the Washington Wizards and using blitzkrieg tactics to beat the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the Cavaliers had a golden (fine, bronze) opportunity to finish their little country-hopper of a road trip 4-0. Rumors swirled (fueled by coach Tyronn Lue’s postgame comments on Wednesday) that the Cavaliers would sit some combination of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, leaving the Cavaliers to start a platoon of John Doe and Joe Schmo (and Jordan McRae).

Instead, all three of the Cavs’ premier players started and saw substantial playing time in a real tooter of a loss to end what was otherwise a superb four-game swing — farting away a nice opportunity to fortify their position in the east in the process. Let’s tinker around with the box score and see how why this was such a slow, painful death (figuratively) to watch.

10 – The Cavaliers allowed 10 fast break points in the first quarter, setting the tone for what was to be a most aggravating evening. We’ll attribute like … six of those transition points to back-to-back fatigue/general not giving a shit. But as Jimmy Valmer from South Park would say: I mean, come on. 

In one instance, off a LeBron James missed free throw, Kyrie Irving and Jordan McRae both neglected to retreat to their basket (or just … you know, stand on the other side of half-court — because if we’re going to be lazy let’s at least be strategically lazy), conceding an easy bucket for Andre Roberson. Later, even though it wasn’t “technically” on a fast break, Kyle Korver disintegrated in the face of the overpowering Alex Abrines (that was a joke), allowing Abrines to posterize Tristan Thompson in what will surely be the highlight of Abrines’ career.

This isn’t a new problem. The Cavs are in the bottom-third in the league in fast break points allowed per game (14.2), and were worst team in the whole NBA during their bleak January (17.6 per game). The Cavs eventually buttoned it up in transition — only allowing another six fast break points after the first quarter. But the damage had been done. The 4-5 quick buckets allowed in the first quarter set the tone for the rest of the night for the Cavs; that tone being … sepia, but like splotchier and browner, I guess.

51 to 35 – The Cavaliers had a -16 rebounding margin, allowing the Thunder to best them 51 to 35 on the glass. The Cavs had only 14 rebounds in the entire second half. The Thunder demolished the Cavs on the offensive glass in particular, earning 17 offensive rebounds to Cleveland’s five (11 to three in the second half).

-27 – The rebounding and turnover edge for the Thunder helped generate a staggering 79 to 106 deficit (-27) in field goal attempts for the Cavaliers. That’s … significant.

20 & 13 – One of the main reasons the Thunder were able to impose their will on the Cavaliers? Steven Adams, who finished with a quiet 20 points and loud 13 rebound (nine offensive). The rugged and perpetually unkempt New Zealander surely made Cavs fans nostalgic for Matthew Dellavedova, their own recently-departed Southern Hemisphere native with a rascally appearance and silly accent. Also, Adams wore flip-flops and a Deadpool shirt to the arena on Thursday.

Making Adams’ effect more pronounced? Tristan Thompson, Adams’ mirror image (well, you know, other than appearance) scored only 10 points with five rebounds after what may have been his best game of the year against the Wizards on Monday. Thompson and Adams’ games are remarkably similar. Thompson may be better at switching at guards and scarier in the pick-and-roll, but Adams is more polished offensively in that he has some (read: any) offensive skill (he hit a hook shot!). Anyway, Adams emphatically outplayed Thompson on Thursday night.

29/12/11 – After going 0-for-14 in triple-doubles against the Cavaliers entering this season, Russell Westbrook now has two straight T-Ds against the Cavs. Westbrook was characteristically active all night (starting with six rebounds and five assists in the first quarter). As Westbrook is wont to do, he shot poorly (7-of-20 through three quarters) before surging toward the mean when it counted most (4-of-6 in the last six minutes). Westbrook’s going to amass his fantasy points, so the Cavs did a fine job against him for the most part — letting him take long shots that he shoots at a poor percentage — but they weren’t going to keep him bottled up all night. If Westbrook beats you hitting long contested jumpers in the fourth quarter, so be it.

– After his best game as a Cleveland Cavalier against the Pacers (29 points, 10-of-12 shooting), the Cavs only facilitated three field goal attempts for Kyle Korver on Thursday. He made them all. The Cavs shouldn’t derail the offense for the sake of Korver, but three field goals in nearly 26 minutes is not meeting my Korver Kuota. More Korver por favor!

2-of-9, 0 – Jordan McRae shot 2-of-9 (22.2 percent) on Thursday, missing wildly on some open looks. He also had zero assists. He’s also generally bad slash lost on defense. Thursday was one of the rare occasions when plus/minus stats don’t match the eye test (he had a +4), but I simply don’t think McRae adds anything substantive to this Cavalier team. I’d be completely content and could die a happy man if I never see McRae play another minute for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After starting on Wednesday and playing swell defense, DeAndre Liggins missed most of Thursday’s game with what I believe Marv Albert called, “a tooth thing.” Let this be a lesson: Brush your teeth kids! It may help you keep a roster spot someday!

12, 8 – If you’re like me, I know what you were thinking when you learned the Cavs signed Derrick Williams to a 10-day contract Thursday morning: “Wow, he’d be perfect for the Cavs! A point guard who can back up Kyrie, drive, and score! Wait, why would the Dallas Mavericks cut him? Ohhhhh, Der-rick Williams. Not Der-on Williams. Well … shit.”1

But in all seriousness, Williams played fine on Thursday for never having a single practice with the team and presumably having no idea what he was supposed to be doing. I did like what Williams did for the New York Knicks last season; and no one likes what anyone is doing for the New York Knicks these days. On Thursday, Williams scored 12 points (3-of-3 shooting) and went to the line eight times. If he can provide that or something comparable on a nightly basis, that’s a huge win for the Cavs.

28 & 18 – Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. I just wanted to test the limits of my journalistic restraint, by regaling with you tales of the exploits of Jordan McRae and Steven Adams. It’s called “suspense,” people. James was typically effective if sort of … askew at first (18 points on 8-of-17 in the first three quarters) before fading down the stretch (0 points, 0-of-2 shooting in the fourth).

Kyrie Irving was his serpentine self all night, winding his way to the hoop in a variety of ways. He finished with 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting (61.1 percent), and looked poised to single-handedly swipe this game from the Thunder in the fourth quarter until a few inopportune turnovers (six total in the game) threw a wrench in that idea. One of those finishes is shown below, with a sickening crossover to split Thompson on the pick and the trailing Adams. 

The Cavs have been playing much better since the calendar turned to February, but Thursday’s game was a missed opportunity to inch toward the All-Star break with another W. James, Irving, and Love all played unnecessary and significant minutes and the Cavs go home with the same thing they would have earned had they started four Girl Scouts and a golden retriever: one big fat L.

  1. In my defense, I had just woken up when I heard of the signing. Hey, I’m on Pacific Time. Give me a break. []