Three-Point Barrage, Loose Balls Sink Thunder – OKC 112, CLE 120

The nets in Chesapeake Energy Arena were still singeing from Sunday night when the Thunder ripped off an Oklahoma City-best 16 made three-pointers in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. On Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers picked right up where the Thunder left off.

In a 120-112 loss for the Thunder, its opposition was blisteringly hot from behind the arc, particularly in the first half when it hit 10 of its 16 made three-pointers for the game. It wasn’t necessarily just the makes, but the 36 attempts that Cleveland was able to fire off that was an issue for the Thunder’s defense. On the night, the Cavaliers shot 51.1 percent from the field, including 44.4 percent from behind the arc.

“The effort was there, the competitiveness was there,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “You got to take your hat off to those guys. They shot the ball extremely well tonight.”

“Some of them were off penetration, getting in the middle of the lane, getting in the paint, kick outs,” Anthony continued. “You have to live with the contested ones, but do a better job of trying to keep teams out of the paint.”

Part of the issue was the Thunder’s pick and roll defense and strategy of switching, which it alternated throughout the night. Neither were able to prevent the Cavaliers from getting downhill into the paint for kick-out three-pointers to the wing. When the Thunder switched, the Cavaliers just utilized Lebron James as a screener, pinpointing the matchup they wanted to isolate on the future Hall of Famer.

“We want to keep certain matchups and certain defensive strategies,” said forward Josh Huestis, who saw his fair share of James on defense tonight. “By him being the screener, it can shift some things and cause different matchup problems.”

“They understood we were kind of switching so they tried to put in a lot more pick and rolls,” center Steven Adams added. “The more actions you put any team in, the more chances you have to mess up.”

When the Thunder tried to play coverage, putting two on the ball temporarily, the Cavaliers capitalized by getting passes quickly into the lane and then zipped out to the wing before the Thunder’s defense could rotate over and catch up.

“The way they got downhill, they were able to mess up our rotations from there. It’s always tough when they go downhill and get bullet passes,” Adams explained. “We need a lob type pass in order to give us time to go close out.”

It was just about an even game through the entire first quarter, but when the Cavaliers ripped off a 9-0 run midway through the second period, control of the game was clearly wrestled away. The Thunder had its chances, however, and kept battling throughout the 48 minutes. Even on its heels after James (37 points, 14-of-23 shooting) made his first six baskets of the second half, including three three-pointers, the Thunder had an answer. A quick 8-0 run featuring a Russell Westbrook three-point play and a pair of Anthony jump shots cut the Cleveland lead quickly back down to just two.

In their first game back from ankle sprains, both Westbrook (21 points, 12 assists) and Anthony (24 points) were clearly getting back into rhythm, but played a factor alongside Paul George (25 points, 5 three-pointers) and Steven Adams (22 points), in keeping the Thunder in this one until the end. In fact that mini burst turned into a 14-3 Thunder run, capped by an endless 41-second possession where Adams was fouled three times.

That burst helped the Thunder take a 3-point lead, but Cleveland immediately responded by scoring eight straight points, then really put the pressure on with a 9-0 run early in the fourth quarter to take an 11-point lead. The Thunder turned the ball over six times in the fourth quarter, and couldn’t come away with enough stops to complete a desperate comeback try in the closing minutes.

The Cavaliers newcomers were clearly a factor, even in just their second game surrounding James in the Cleveland rotation. George Hill was steady as the starting point guard, Jordan Clarkson hit tough floaters and attacked the rim, Rodney Hood knocked down four three-pointers and Larry Nance Jr. was a revelation as the team’s backup center, racking up eight offensive rebounds that helped lead to 16 Cavaliers second chance points.

“A big part of the game was some rebounds and loose balls that we didn’t come up with,” Donovan said. “If we could have secured more of those it at least could have gotten us out in the break, out in transition. Our first shot defense was pretty good, but the second chance points for them in crucial times were big as we were trying to play catch up.”

The Thunder itself was a force on the offensive glass, as Steven Adams racked up a career-high 12 offensive boards (17 total rebounds) as Oklahoma City turned 18 offensive rebounds into 21 second chance points. The difference tonight was that the Thunder couldn’t prevent the same from happening on the other end of the floor. Cleveland’s energy was palpable, and it carried over into the nail-in-the-coffin possession in the waning seconds.

An Anthony three-pointer cut the Cavaliers’ lead to five with 23.2 seconds to play, and on the inbounds pass the Thunder came up with a steal. Alex Abrines lined up a 27-foot three-point attempt, but the ball glanced off the rim and towards the baseline out of bounds. Cleveland’s J.R. Smith leapt over the line, flipped the ball over his head into the backcourt and miraculously into the hands of Nance, who soared in for a game-sealing dunk.

“We put ourselves in a position to win the game,” Westbrook said. “They obviously shot the ball better than we did, made some plays down the stretch.”Highlights: Thunder vs. Cavaliers

By the Numbers

4 – Thunder players who scored at least 20 points, the fourth time that’s happened this season and just the fifth time its happened in the Oklahoma City era

12 - Offensive rebounds for Steven Adams, a career-high, and part of 18 total offensive rebounds for the Thunder on the night

51-20 - Differential in bench points on the night for the Cavaliers, as Cleveland’s reserves shot 19-for-40

The Last Word

“We played hard. We fought. With as many shots as they were making, we could have easily folded and been down a lot more. We fought until the end. Proud of our guys. We will be better for it.” – forward Josh Huestis