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Wrap-Up -- Wins against upper-echelon Western Conference teams will be tough to come by this year for the young Cavaliers. But if they play the way they did on Wednesday night, they’ll eventually take down one of those heavyweights.
The Thunder came to Cleveland having won five straight and smelled blood against a shorthanded Cavaliers squad when they rolled into The Q. The Wine & Gold gave them all they could handle for three-and-a-half quarters, but OKC closed the contest on an 11-2 run to take the, 95-86, decision and send Cleveland to its fourth straight defeat.
Already without their two top power forwards – Kevin Love and Sam Dekker – the Cavaliers were without starting point guard George Hill, out with left shoulder soreness, and lost the man who slid over to play the 4, Cedi Osman, less than six minutes into the affair.
In fairness, the Thunder were without former MVP, Russell Westbrook, who sprained his left ankle in a Monday night win over New Orleans.
Westbrook’s replacement – Dennis Schroder – did more than pick up the slack, however, leading all scorers with 28 points, going 11-of-19 from the floor to go with seven boards. The German import didn’t tally a single assist in the contest – and no one on OKC had more than two as Billy Donovan’s squad handed out just 10 total helpers on the night.
For Cleveland, rookie Collin Sexton got his first start of the season and responded well – leading six Cavaliers in double-figures with 15 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the floor. But like Schroder, Sexton didn’t do much to involve his teammates, tallying just a single assist in 42 minutes of work.
Neither team outscored the other by more than five points in any quarter and there were seven ties and six lead-changes.
The Cavaliers have no reason to hang their heads after Wednesday’s loss.
Oklahoma City doubled their eight-point halftime lead less than two minutes into the second stanza. But the Cavaliers got back to within five on JR Smith’s triple later in the period.
In the fourth, the Thunder tried pulling away again – taking a 12-point edge early in the final quarter, but Cleveland staged a furious comeback, going on a 16-4 burst to tie the game at 80 points apiece.
Collin Sexton drops a team-high 15 points in his first NBA start.
The Cavs would proceed to tie the game again at 84 with 4:49 to play. But that would be as good as it’d get for Larry Drew’s young squad, which expended nearly all its energy staging its second-half surge.
JR Smith posted his third straight double-figure scoring game – this time as a starter, getting the nod with the absence of Dekker – finishing with 13 points on 5-for-17 shooting, including 3-of-11 from long-range.
Rodney Hood chipped in with 11 points to go with five boards and four assists and Tristan Thompson posted his second straight double-double – netting 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to do his usual scoring thing – extending his early-season double-figure scoring streak to 11 games – but he also led both squads with eight assists to go with nine boards – both season-highs.
Ante Zizic finally got some minutes and responded well – nearly doubling-up in just 16 minutes of work, registering 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting to go with nine boards.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well on Wednesday, but the Thunder did take twice as many free throw attempts than the Cavaliers, going 16-of-18 from the stripe to an 11-of-13 mark for Cleveland.
Turning Point -- The Cavaliers record isn’t a thing of beauty, but anyone watching the past few games has seen a different and more resilient Cavaliers club.
Instead of folding after going down by a dozen in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers fought for their lives – with JR Smith’s triple igniting a run that saw them erase a double-digit lead in just under four minutes.
That run was keyed by a mixture of youth and experience – with Swish and Kyle Korver doing the perimeter scoring and Ante Zizic doing the dirty work down low.
When the smoke cleared, the Cavs had erased OKC’s advantage before running out of gas over the game’s final four minutes.
By the Numbers – .259 … OKC’s three-point percentage (7-for-27) on Wednesday night – a season-low for the Cavaliers’ defense.
Quotable – Coach Larry Drew, on Collin Sexton’s first career start on Wednesday night …
"I really thought when I heard that George wasn’t going to play and Collin would be starting, I told my coaches that this is going to be a really good test for him. I think he passed the test, I really do. I thought he played with a lot of vengeance, he was in attack mode and he wasn’t afraid to take the shot."
Up Next -- Following Wednesday’s defeat at The Q, the Wine & Gold get right back on the road this weekend – heading to the Windy City on Saturday night for their first meeting with the Bulls this season. Next week, the Cavaliers welcome the Hornets to The Q for a Tuesday night matchup before heading to the nation’s capital the following evening for a battle with the Wizards. Cleveland gets a rare four-day break before traveling to Motown for a Monday night rematch with the Pistons.