By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
For most of the day the word was Cleveland’s “Big Three” LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would sit out Thursday night’s game with the Thunder.
90 minutes before tipoff Cavs coach Tyronn Lue told reporters it looked like they would all play though he admitted that could change.
When tipoff finally rolled around James, Irving and Love were in uniform and on the court. So the Thunder wouldn’t catch a break and get an easy win against the Cavs JV team. They would have to face the varsity All-Stars.
Turns out they caught a break afterall. Instead of beating up on backups the Thunder took down the defending NBA Champions in convincing fashion, 118-109, in front of a raucous, sellout crowd inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“There was a lot of drama goin’ on before the game, who’s playing, who’s not playing, it looks like they’re not gonna play, it looks like they will play I just told our guys it’s about what we need to do,” said head coach Billy Donovan. “I really don’t think for us, the players got too wrapped up in that stuff.”
Considering the opponent the Thunder came out and played one of their best games of the season.
Russell Westbrook picked up his 26th triple-double with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Steven Adams dominated inside with 20 points and 13 rebounds and Andre Roberson limited James to 18 points on 8-for-19 shooting overall (1-for-4 on threes).
“I don’t know that there’s another player in the NBA who makes it more difficult on high octane scorers than (Roberson) does,” bragged Donovan.
“I don’t know if people understand how hard he has to work to do what he does,” Donovan continued.
Scoring (or lack of same) tends to get everyone’s attention when it comes to Roberson. Lately though he’s picked up the pace by using a lot of backdoor cuts to the basket. He scored eight points against the Cavs on 4-for-8 shooting, pulled down seven rebounds, blocked two shots and grabbed a steal.
“He was terrific,” Donovan said.
“I just try to stay aggressive,” Roberson told reporters when he was asked about guarding James. “Try to be physical with him. He’s a great passer so I wanted to take away some of his passes by using my length and just contesting everything on his drives.”
The Thunder also got a solid game from Victor Oladipo who scored 23 points on 9-for-17 shooting, including a 360 layup off Westbrook’s 10th assist of the game. And backup point guard Cameron Payne, who’s struggled lately, really played well scoring 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting including three 3s.
The Thunder outrebounded Cleveland by a whopping 51-35 margin. They outscored them in the paint 58-52, in transition 16-14 and in 2nd chance points 19-13.
Now the Thunder have won three of their last four and carry momentum into Saturday’s showdown game with Golden State and former teammate Kevin Durant.
What kind of atmosphere does Westbrook expect inside The Peake when Durant comes calling for the first time this season?
“The same that we have every night,” he said.
Meaning, loud. VERY loud.
Does he expect expect Durant to be booed? Cheered a little bit? Does it matter to him one way or the other?
“Naw...it’s up to them what they want to do.”
Then Westbrook said pretty much the nicest things he has all season about the man who walked away.
“Obviously Kevin did a lot for Oklahoma City and for our team when he was here so it’s up to them (whether fans boo or cheer) it doesn’t really matter to me one way or another. It’s a basketball game...gotta go out and compete.”
One way or the other it should be fascinating to watch and listen for what happens.