The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t get too much of a fight out of the Cleveland Cavaliers, beating them 103-94 with Russell Westbrook leading the way along with Kevin Durant, while LeBron James sat out the interesting matchup and Kyrie Irving played most of the game with an injured knee.
While players and coaches always talk about wanting to play against the best, Kendrick Perkins was honest about his feelings. He is still holding on to his hate for James from his Boston Celtics days, and admitted through twitter that he’s quite pleased that the Thunder, who need every win they can get in the very difficult Western conference, won’t be facing him in their next game.
Irving played 40 minutes despite hurting his knee and taking some treatment in the locker room during the first quarter, but struggled against a red hot Russell Westbrook, who has taken the lead for the Thunder since his and Durant’s return. Irving shot just 7-of-21 from the field and got tired guarding Westbrook, leading the Thunder with 26 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists on 12-of-24 from the field.
Kevin Durant took just 14 shots and was visibly frustrated a couple of times by being left open and not getting the pass. He finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, but it does seem like the players on the floor are going more towards Westbrook than Durant. Maybe it’s something designed by Scott Brooks (although any connection between him and offensive design is fickle at best) or just getting used to Durant not being around.
For the Cavaliers, without anything special from both Kevin Love (18 points) and Irving (20 points), there was never going to be a real comeback. They shot just 36.5% from the field and scored just 28 points in the paint, struggling to get good, clean looks from close range without James being able to give the very good Thunder defense some matchup and mismatch problems. Matthew Dellavedova started for James, scoring 14 points, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.
Westbrook is playing like an MVP-bound player, having six consecutive 20-5-5 or better games since returning. But don’t think he’s doing it on his own. The Thunder have vastly improved just by having Durant available to play, with their offensive efficiency up by 11.4 points per 100 possessions in the five games since his return compared to the 17 games without him, most of them also without Westbrook.
Individually Durant is still struggling. He was shooting just 27.2% from the field until the Cavaliers opted to use Irving on him in the closing moments. Durant responded by scoring the final 8 points for the Thunder on 3-of-3 from the field. Once in a while it works to put a small guy to confuse Durant, like the Clippers have done with Chris Paul. Most of the time, it’s better to have someone like LeBron James guarding him.