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Wrap-Up – It’s been said before: There are no moral victories in the NBA. But Thursday’s loss to the Thunder was about as “good” as a defeat could be for the Cavaliers – playing without one star and almost losing another while battling back from 20 points down against a Western Conference heavyweight. In the end, it was too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but the shorthanded Cavaliers certainly showed their metal in a 103-94 defeat.
With LeBron James sitting out with a cranky left knee, the Wine and Gold put their eight-game win streak on the line against a Thunder squad that’s just now getting healthy. Cleveland still featured five players in double-figures, led by Kyrie Irving – who returned after an awkward knee-to-knee collision with Westbrook late in the second quarter. Irving crashed to the ground, clutching his left knee as his teammates gathered around him. He was helped off the floor and into the locker room, but returned after halftime, warmed up and played almost the entire second stanza – finishing with a team-high 20 points.
Kevin Love doubled-up with 18 points and 16 boards, going 5-for-13 from the floor. Three other Cavaliers added 14 points apiece – notably Tristan Thompson, who also added 13 boards, seven off the offensive glass, and a pair of blocked shots. Matthew Dellavedova, getting the spot start with LeBron out of the lineup, went 4-of-6 from long-distance as part of his 14-point effort. And Dion Waiters finished 5-of-13 from the floor for his 14.
The Cavs were badly outscored in the paint, 48-28, and on the break, 21-7, while shooting just 37 percent from the floor. But they scrapped and clawed through the entire second half, with OKC only able to pull away comfortably in the closing seconds.
Turning Point – After going into intermission tied at 47-apiece, the Cavs were able to take a two-point edge early in the third quarter. The game stayed knotted until midway through the period, when Westbrook scored on a layup, followed by back-to-back treys by Serge Ibaka and Anthony Morrow that extended OKC’s lead to eight.
By early in the fourth, the Thunder stretched their lead to 20, but Dellavedova canned a pair of three-pointers to cut the lead back to single-digits. Cleveland cut the lead to six with under a minute to play, but could get no closer as Oklahoma City held on for its fourth straight victory.
By the Numbers – 17.2, 13.0/14.2, 11.7 … Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson’s scoring and rebounding averages, respectively, over the past four contests – giving the Wine and Gold one of the most potent 1-2 power forward combinations in the NBA.
Quotable – Kevin Love, on the Cavaliers’ effort with LeBron James out of the lineup …
”We have a lot of guys on this team that can step up. Shooting as poorly as we did, and still climbing and fighting back against a very good team in the Western Conference and league overall, it showed us a lot. Obviously we’re not too happy with a loss, but there are a lot of things that we can see in that fourth quarter that showed a lot of character about our team.”
Up Next – The Cavaliers close out a rough road stretch on Friday night in the Big Easy when they take on Anthony Davis and the Pelicans in the second-half of a back-to-back. After a couple days off, the Wine and Gold play five straight in the cozy confines of The Q before a Christmas Day matchup in Miami. On Monday, they face off against the Hornets for the first time this season. Two days later, it’s a date with the red-hot Hawks, who Cleveland trounced by 33 in mid-November. And next Friday night, it’s a home meeting with the Brooklyn Nets, who the Cavaliers beat last Monday night to extend their win streak to seven.