Before everyone starts blaming Russell Westbrook for the Oklahoma City Thunder losing for a third consecutive game,it’s better to simply focus on how great of a game Kyrie Irving had, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a stunning comeback victory and not for the first time against this team.
Irving had 35 points in a big win over the Thunder late last season, but that happened in Cleveland. This time, the Cavs have made it three home losses in a row for the Thunder, who don’t really have any excuses to show for it. They were demolished by the Miami Heat, had three days of rest before getting beaten by the Clippers and three days of more rest and time for Westbrook to mesh again with his teammates, but another loss.
Defense is the first place to look at, with the Thunder losing 114-104 and giving up too many points in this failed home stand. Westbrook is doing well offensively – he scored 24 points on 8-of-17 from the field on nine assists, although not for the first time this season his shot decision making in the final minutes was less than satisfactory. But the same can be said about Durant, who scored 28 points and was one assist shy of a triple double.
But before we continue to talk about Durant and Westbrook, the focus has to go to Irving. The Cavs have an outside chance of making the playoffs. The shortened roster maybe did them some good, and especially made Irving feel more responsible and focused. He has problems with being selfish on the floor, but when he gets hot there are few players in the league who can match him shot for shot.
Irving put on his All-Star shoes to score 31 points with five rebounds, nine assists and four steals, helping the Cavs come back from 11 points down in the third quarter, and outscoring the Thunder, who are falling apart defensively without Kendrick Perkins, 42-28 in the fourth quarter. He got plenty of help from Jarrett Jack scoring 21 points and Spencer Hawes, the team’s newly acquired center, with 19 points and 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.
So Westbrook? Yes, his defense is awful, but the Thunder tried keeping him away from Irving on many possession. Thabo Sefolosha or anyone else for that matter didn’t do any better. There is an issue with Westbrook and team play, especially after getting used to play without him, but Perkins out for six weeks is even a bigger problem.
But wait – wasn’t Perkins a piece that made the Thunder worse? Not exactly. He is a fifth wheel on offense and overpaid for what he gives them, playing more minutes than he should. But this team is built with him as one of their defensive anchors in mind, and suddenly taking him out of the picture not only puts Steven Adams in a situation that’s a bit too big for him right now, but also makes it a bench without a big man, as the Thunder won’t let Hasheem Thabeet play.
Figuring it out? Right now the Thunder look like the team their haters keep calling them out for: Talented, but with a head coach who doesn’t know much about offense and has no knack for altering things and making adjustments. The Cavs still don’t look like a playoff team, unless Irving can figure out a way to have at least 15-20 more games like this one throughout the rest of the season.