By Randy Renner
LeBron James missed his first game if the season with a sore left knee and the Thunder took full advantge of his absence, beating the Cavaliers 103-94 and holding them to just 36.5 percent shooting.
The Cavs came in hot, having won eight in a row. During the streak they were outscoring their opponents by almost 15 points a game, averaging 106.1 points on 50.1 percent shooting.
They fell well short of those marks Thursday night thanks to a tenacious Thunder defense. In addition to the low shooting percentage the Cavs turned the ball over 15 times.
Russell Westbrook had another big night and led all scorers with 26 points on 12-for-24 shooting. He also handed out eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds, so once again he came close to a triple double.
Kevin Durant got off to a slow start but took the game over in the closing minutes, scoring the last eight Thunder points. and finishing with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The Thunder dominated inside, scoring 48 points in the paint, while the Cavs managed just 28. The Thunder also ran the Cavs into the ground, scoring 21 fast break points on 9-for-13 shooting in transition. The Cavaliers never could get the running game in gear, scoring just seven fast break points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Oklahoma City didn 't start the game very well, turning the ball over seven times in the first quarter. They trailed 26-18 after the first 12 minutes. But the second and third quarters were all Thunder, outscoring the Cavaliers 60-40 in those 24 minutes.
That gave them the cushion they needed to withstand a Cavs rally at the end.
"They're a talented team even without LeBron," said Durant. "They hit us in the mouth early and then we came back. Every game is a challenge but we're growing every day."
And getting closer to digging themselves out of that deep, deep hole they were buried in just a couple of weeks ago. OKC has now won four straight and six of the last seven since suffering through a six game losing streak. The record is now up to 9-13 and if things break the right way over the next couple of days they could actually be in eighth place in the Western Conference by the end of Sunday evening.
The Thunder flew to Minneapolis right after the game and will play the Timberwolves Friday night, then it's right back home to play Phoenix on Sunday when eighth place may be on the line.