By Paris Lawson | Broadcast and Digital Reporter | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC at CLE
THE BIG PICTURE
OKC showed resilience and grit in its rematch against the Cavaliers. The game marked the final game of its longest road trip of the season as well as a second night of a back-to-back for the Thunder. In addition, the team experienced a series of weather and mechanical delays the night before that prevented its arrival to Cleveland until 8 o’clock Saturday morning. Despite the adverse circumstances, the Thunder showed consistent energy through four quarters, dug in its heels defensively and forced the Cavs to earn its 94-87 win on its home floor.
MOMENTS FROM THE 48
Responding to the Challenge
The night before the Thunder took on the Cavs in Cleveland, Thunder staffers were out in the snow and ice helping push the team bus that got stuck on the road in Charlotte.
The delayed bus was one of several travel setbacks that prevented the Thunder from arriving to its hotel in Cleveland until 8 o’clock Saturday morning. With the delayed arrival, the demands of the longest road trip of the season and the grueling nature of the second night of a back-to-back, Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault looked forward to how his group would respond given the circumstances.
The team responded with energy.
OKC answered every run the Cavs threw its way and balanced just a single digit deficit throughout the first half thanks to a balanced scoring effort and a disciplined defensive showing. OKC’s biggest deficit of the night occurred in the final moments of the third quarter when Cleveland went on an extended 20-7 run to build up a 17-point lead.
OKC responded with a 10-0 run that extended into the fourth quarter to make it a close ball game through the final frame. The Thunder went stride for stride with the Cavs and with just 22 seconds left, OKC trailed by just six points thanks to a jumper by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Though the Thunder came up a couple plays short in the final seconds, the gritty effort was a testament to the team’s resilience and competitiveness in the face of adversity.
“We fought and gave ourselves a chance,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. I think that's where it starts for us every night. If we want to win a game, we’ve got to fight. We did a pretty good job of that.”
“That's the recipe to win a road game is you just kind of hang around and grind it out possession by possession,” said Daigneault. “I thought our guys’ focus, competitiveness and togetherness was really evident and it reflected in the competitiveness of the game.”
Shai’s Balanced Night
The Thunder’s leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander poured in a game-high 29 points to go with six assists and nine rebounds. The 29-point performance marked SGA’s 25th game of the season with 20 or more points, tying his total from last season. The effort also marked Gilgeous-Alexander’s seventh straight game with five or more steals and ninth game with one or more steals.
Digging in Defensively
OKC’s defensive numbers were a key indicator of the energy throughout the game. For the night, OKC forced a season-high 23 turnovers while logging a season-high 14 steals. Against Cleveland’s large frontline, the Thunder worked to play aggressively, pack the paint and win the point of attack. Eight different players recorded a steal in this one.
“Pretty much play scrappy,” said Thunder wing Kenrich Williams. “Get into the ball and pack the paint. That was the game plan for tonight. It worked out for us. We were just a few plays short of being there at the end. Just sticking to the defensive game plan.”
Kenrich the Spark Plug
Every player who logged minutes against the Cavs scored, but it was Kenrich Williams who led the way with 12 points. In just his second game back after missing five games due to health and safety protocols, the Thunder reserve Kenrich Williams provided yet another energy-boosting performance that included more than just points on the score chart. Williams made his presence known on nearly every play, getting a hand on the ball or keeping a possession alive. For the night, Kenny Hustle logged four rebounds and a pair of assists.
“It’s good to have him back,” said Daigneault. “He's just got a really stable presence on the team because of how he competes, how consistent he is, his competitiveness. He's inside the team and I thought he was doing that again tonight.”
THE LAST WORD
After seven days on the road, the Thunder finally returns to Oklahoma City where the team will have a day off before returning to action against the Chicago Bulls inside of Paycom Center on Monday.