By Randy Renner
It sure seemed like things were breaking the Thunder’s way before their showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers tipped off Sunday afternoon when Cavs coach Tyronn Lue announced shooting guard Iman Shumpert, arguably Cleveland’s best perimeter defender, wouldn’t play because of a sore shoulder.
Backup point guard Matthew Delavadova would be limited because of a sore hamstring, third team PG Mo Williams wouldn’t be able to play at all and new trade acquisition Channing Frye had yet to be cleared medically.
Then in the first quarter Cavs All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who’d averaged 26 points on 53.5 percent shooting in his nine previous games, started 1-for-5 and had to leave the game with an illness.
So the table was set for the Thunder to drop the hammer on a short-handed Cavs team and make a statement moving forward.
Well the home town guys made a statement all right and it wasn’t one anyone in OKC wanted to hear.
Cavaliers 115, Thunder 92.
The fourth largest margin of defeat at home ever for OKC.
The problems were familiar (lack of consistency on defense, failure to defend the 3-point line) and unfamiliar (stalled offense, failure to control the glass).
Afterwards in a silent and somber Thunder lockerroom, Kevin Durant indicated changes are needed.
“Gotta dig down deep,” he said. “Xs and Os, schemes and shootarounds and practices, that shit’s out the window. You gotta dig down deep and decide what you wanna do. Everybody.”
Uh-oh, certainly sounds like some frustrations building there but asked if he wanted to go deeper with exactly what he meant by that Durant said, “No, I don’t wanna go deeper.”
All right well I guess I will then. The Thunder still can’t defend with any consistency. It’s been an issue Billy Donovan has talked about since the first day of training camp.
“What we’ve been trying to work on is that consistency and defensively it wasn’t there tonight,” he said.
There were times when the Thunder aggressively defended the Cavs and other times they almost didn’t seem to care or had at least lost focus. Cleveland actually shot a better percentage from beyond the arc (43.5 Percent) than OKC did overall (41.1 percent).
That poor shooting performance seemed to get in the Thunder’s heads as the game went on. As more OKC shots clanged off the rim, or the side of the backboard or simply passed through nothing but air, the more the Thunder lost their way on defense.
“They went on a run, we’re missing some shots and then it really bled into our defense there in the third quarter,” Donovan noted.
The third quarter is where the Thunder actually got back in the game, cutting a nine-point Cav lead down to four after a ferocious slam by Russell Westbrook to finish off a fast break. But then just as quickly they gave it all back and then some when Cleveland went on an 11-0 run that expanded to 27-7 and finished the quarter at 29-11. By then the Thunder trailed 95-73 and that, as Donovan said, was pretty much that.
“Yeah pretty much from there they were able to get way in front and it was an uphill climb.”
Made even tougher by the Cavs ability to have unexpected guys come through for them, Kevin Love with 29 points, J.R. Smith 5-for-8 on threes, Richard Jefferson 3-for-4 on threes. While the Thunder couldn’t find anyone to help dig out of the hole.
Dion Waiters, who’d done so well starting in place of an injured Andre Roberson, continued his recent shooting slump going 1-for-8 overall and 0-for-3 on threes. Anthony Morrow was only fractionally better going 2-for-8 overall and 0-for-3 from deep.
And the normally reliable Thunder rebounding went out the window too as the Cavs grabbed 10 more (49-39) than OKC.
The Thunder went into the All-Star Game rolling, winning 16 of 18 games leading up to the break. Coming out of it they’ve dropped two straight, a heartbreaker Friday night when they gave up four straight 3s to the Pacers and yesterday when they were blown out by the shorthanded Cavaliers.
Neither is a particularly good look and couple that with what KD had to say after the game you have to wonder what’s going on with this team right now.
But for some reason Donovan still sees a bright side where more and more people are taking an increasingly dim view of the Thunder’s chances to seriously challenge for a championship.
“The more adversity our team faces, the better,” he said. “That’s the only true way to come together, rise above it and be all we can be.”
The fear is the Thunder already are all they can be.