Things Came Together For OKC In Biggest Win Of Season
By A. Suave Francisco
Thursday was a complete frenzy. Throughout the entire day, media members and NBA fans weighed in on Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Ty Lue's announcement the previous night that his big three probably would sit out in Oklahoma City. Nothing was definite, but everyone assumed they wouldn't play the game. With all this going on, the Thunder players knew who would play on their end and they stuck to their initial gameplan. That focused mindset alone may be the reason the Thunder came out and beat Cleveland 118-109, their undisputed best showing of this season.
Three things other than Russell Westbrook really stood out in this game: OKC's defense, Steven Adams impact on both ends of the floor and Cameron Payne's surprising, but much-needed contribution off the bench.
The Thunder's defense has been suspect all season and very inconsistent. There will be games where it looks like a juggernaut and then times where it looks like Chino Hills High School. Even when the defense is great, it's normally against an inferior opponent. That wasn't the case today. They locked up the defending champions and although the Cavs shoot 48 percent from the field, they made every shot tougher, every possession shorter and played the game they wanted to play, instead of succumbing to Cleveland's style of basketball.
Steven Adams played one of his best games of the season, maybe even his best. He finished tonight with 20 points and 13 rebounds, 9 of which on the offensive end. More impressively, he made things really hard for Tristan Thompson who did score 10 points, but the majority of those came when Adams wasn't in the game. Thompson is a guy who averages just shy of 10 rebounds at 9.6 but Adams held him to just 5, with 2 of those coming when Adams wasn't in the game. Other than Kevin Love, Cleveland couldn't generate anything in the paint.
For the first time this season, we all witnessed the potential of Cameron Payne that we saw previews of in his rookie season. He played like the backup Westbrook needs. Scoring 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting in 12:37 of playing time, he looked fluid and not hesitant of anything. He didn't appear to second guess a single motion and that's exactly what Westbrook, Billy Donovan and frankly, Sam Presti wants to see every game. Confidence may be the primary attribute when describing a point guard and he hasn't shown that all season, until Thursday night, on the largest stage of the season and against the best team.
The Thunder as a whole looked confident in this game and that's something we haven't completely experienced this season. This was the biggest win of the year, but a win on Saturday against the Golden State Warriors in Kevin Durant's first return would automatically trump this as the biggest. OKC gained some ground on that sixth playoff spot in the Western Conference with a (31-23) record, just one and a half games behind Memphis.