FINISHING UP THE BACK-TO-BACK
The Wine & Gold close out their three-game roadie on Friday night – traveling to Oklahoma City for a matchup with the surprising young Thunder at Paycom Center.
On Thursday night in Houston, the Cavaliers got a much-needed blowout victory – running out to a 26-point halftime lead and barely looking back after intermission, with Darius Garland leading the way on his 23rd birthday. Cleveland dominated in the near-wire-to-wire win – tallying 40 points off 22 Houston turnovers while committing just 10 miscues of their own. The Cavs handed out 29 assists, drilled 15 triples and got a combined 35 points from their bench in the win.
The Thunder (23-25) have won eight of their first 12 games in 2023, although they’ve dropped two of the last three – including a home loss to the Hawks on Wednesday night. OKC piled up 43 points in the opening period, but Atlanta was even better, scoring 30-plus points in each of the first three quarters and getting at least 18 points from each of its five starters. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paced both teams with 36 points, but it wasn't enough in the high-scoring affair.
After dropping five straight in the series, the Wine and Gold have taken each of the last four against OKC – the previous three by single-digits – including 110-102 victory at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse back on December 10.
Friday’s contest will feature a pair of point guards who could still be named to their respective Conference’s All-Star squads when Darius Garland and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander square off in OKC.
Gilgeous-Alexander is having a career year and comes into Friday’s meeting as the NBA’s 5th-leading scorer at 30.8ppg – having topped the 30-point plateau in each of his last three outings and on 25 occasions this year, with three 40-point efforts in the mix.
The durable 5th-year guard from Kentucky has topped the 30-point mark just once during his career against the Cavaliers, but he’s netted ate least 20 points in each of the last seven meetings, including a 23-point effort back in December in Cleveland.
Garland is coming off a strong night on his 23rd birthday, leading everyone with 26 points, going 9-for-16 from the floor, including 5-of-8 from long-range. He also led both squads with nine assists and three steals in the one-sided win.
DG the PG had a relatively quiet night in the last meeting between these two teams – finishing with 13 points and eight dimes – but was outstanding against the Thunder in two contests last year, averaging 25.0 points and 14.5 assists per.
ONE OF TWO J. WILLIAMS
Thunder rookie Jalen Williams has been opening eyes recently, and the Cavs will get their second look at the swingman from Santa Clara on Friday night, this time as a starter.
Williams last appearance before moving into the starting lineup came in that December 10 matchup at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, when he finished with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Since then, he’s averaged 13.0ppg as a starter, with netting double-figures in all but four of those 22 games over that span. Maybe more importantly, the Thunder have gone 12-10 over that span.
He’ll likely spend much of Friday night tangling with another Cavalier fresh off a birthday celebration – namely Isaac Okoro, who turned 22 on Friday, celebrating with a victory in Houston (along with a melted ice cream cake in the postgame locker room). Okoro netted just five points in the win, but was his usual stellar self on the defensive end.
And while the 3rd-year man from Auburn hasn’t put up big point totals of late, he’s been extremely efficient, shooting 64 percent from the floor, including 57 percent from long-range, over his last eight outings.