By Randy Renner
We had all seen the movie before, you know the one about the hometown basketball team cruising along with a big lead and then blowing it at the end.
In fact we've not only seen it, we've seen it repeated a couple of times and it looked like we were going to see it again last night in Cleveland.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a terribly disappointing loss, the Thunder dug down deep, made a couple of huge stops in the closing seconds and hit just enough of their free throws to come away with a 102-95 win instead over the never-say-die Cavaliers.
With a little more than six minutes to play and the Thunder up by 24 points at 95-71 it certainly looked like no last second seat squirming would be needed. "But anything can happen in this league," Kevin Durant reminded. "Guys have pride. Cleveland plays extremely hard so those guys made it a game late. We just had to close it out.”
The Thunder had apparently forgotten a lesson that should have been burned into their brains a few comeback losses ago. Afterall it was these same Cleveland Cavaliers who trailed the Thunder by double-digits in the fourth quarter in Oklahoma City a few weeks ago. Then they went out and cracked open a 42-point egg all over the Thunder defense in the fourth quarter to steal a win.
Last night the Thunder managed to clean up their fourth quarter mess with a key block from Serge Ibaka with half a minute to go and then going 5-for-8 at the free line line in the closing seconds to get just enough room to breathe.
Despite the defensive lapses during five minutes or so of the fourth quarter and a slow offensive start in the first five minutes or so of the first quarter, the Thunder played a pretty good game last night, especially considering they were again without three starters.
As most expected before the game, Russell Westbrook was held out for rest, joining injured starters Thabo Sefolosha (calf) and Kendrick Perkins (groin) on the bench.
With those three out on Sunday the Thunder looked terrible on both ends of the floor and were clobbered by Dallas. Last night with those three out again, the Thunder seemed in much better control.
Durant had another big night with 35 points and 11 rebounds and so did Ibaka with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
The two you had to really be happy with were Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. Jackson was solid at the point with 13 points and six assists and Lamb, playing big minutes, had 10 points, three rebounds and two blocks.
Lamb has almost become the invisible man with the Thunder since the arrival of Caron Butler but he answered the call last night.
Since it's obvious the Thunder will rest Westbrook during this stretch of back-to-back sets (four more left after this one) Lamb and Jackson will have to come up big for the Thunder to get wins when Westbrook is left to cheer from the bench.
The Thunder are in Toronto today to play the Raptors tonight and Westbrook will be back on the floor.
Later today I'll post a preview of tonight's match-up.