The Cavs were missing their first and second string PG, missed 20 of 40 free throw attempts, and had 17 turnovers yet they somehow managed to improve to 26-1 when scoring 100 points in a game with a victory over the OKC Thunder. LeBron was magnificent and carried the depleted roster in a vintage LBJ MVP performance. He absolutely dominated the last minute of each half which buoyed the Cavaliers to victory. At the end of the first half, he hustled down with about 35 seconds to play and hit a three to force a 2-for-1 exchange giving the Cavaliers the final shot – where he promptly drilled another 3 pointer to end the half. A 7 point lead was immediately extended to 13 on the perfectly executed 2-for-1. It was a crucial exchange as the Cavaliers came out asleep in the 3rd, giving up an inexcusable 35 points in the quarter which in turn gave the Thunder a 1 point lead heading into the 4th.
Kevin Durant matched James for much of the second half and finished with 34 and 10. The final minute of the game, however, belonged to the reigning MVP who willed the undermanned Cavs to victory. As the Cavs gagged on free throw attempt after attempt, they found themselves down 1 with 35 seconds to go. Lebron grabbed a rebound off a Russell Westbrook miss and immediately raced down to the offensive end looking to score a quick bucket without calling timeout. With all 5 Thunder defenders focused on James, LeBron found Boobie Gibson who was wide open in transition. Boobie, who had a largely ineffective game as the new starting PG, stepped up and hit the clutch three to give the Cavs a two point lead. OKC isolated Durant on the other end to try and tie the game. KD drove to his left and got to the block only to be denied on highlight rejection by LeBron. James was fouled and sank the icing 2 FTs for the win. While James, who was one rebound away from a triple-double, and Durant were incredible throughout the game, those closing minutes of the first half and the game are what sealed the W and boost his MVP credentials.
This was the second game in a row where Cavs fans were exposed to a new rotation forced upon Coach Brown because of injuries. Unfortunately, the starting backcourt of Gibson and Parker was very underwhelming. AP had two points in 33 minutes and he was beaten on the defensive end on a number of glaring occasions. Granted, he was often saddled with guarding Durant, but he had some crucial fouls after being beat by both Durant and James Harden. Most importantly, he has to be more efficient on the offensive end and pick up some of the scoring slack that is lost with Mo/Delonte out.
Gibson came up huge hitting the clutch three to put the Cavs ahead for good with 30 seconds to play. But he was pretty ineffective for most of the game. He had no assists which is almost an incomprehensible stat from the starting PG spot. He was also a defensive liability matching up against the bigger and stronger Russell Westbrook, who often muscled his way to the lane and either scored or drew a foul. In addition, Westbrook was able to get wherever he wanted to on the floor. But, Gibson stepped up and drained the three when LBJ called his number. He had to have been ice cold after being eliminated from the rotation for over a month now. PG is not really his true position and he is immediately being called off the bench and asked to dominate the ball handling. Hopefully he will improve with more minutes.
While Parker & Gibson struggled, LeBron and Shaq picked up the team. With no true PG to run the offense, the Cavs spent most of the game running everything through Lebron on the wing and Shaq in the post – cutting and popping off those two who were on the same side of the floor for most of the second half. Shaq stepped up and had a season high 22 points. With fewer offensive options, he provided so much more than just scoring and, along with LBJ, was really the only other serious offensive threat on the floor. A majority of the offense in the 2nd half was created by Shaq - JJ would cut to the hoop for a bucket while Shaq was doubled; Gibson would pop to the corner for a three while Shaq was doubled; LeBron would draw a double on the drive and find Shaq to clean up on the blocks. Shaq on a number of occasions established excellent position – I mean, he was in the restricted circle with a man on his back as soon as the ball came into the offensive end. And they continued to pound the ball inside. In addition to his season high scoring output, this facilitation all led to a game high +13. The Diesel really proved his worth in a game where it was absolutely necessary.
In addition to Shaq and LeBron, Jawad set a career high in the first half alone – scoring 12 points. He did not score in the second half but he provided a boost in his 23 minutes. JJ’s solid play carried over from the Lakers’ game. He was extremely active on the glass, particularly in the first half, and finished with 9 and 9. Danny Green saw his most extensive action and stepped up nicely. He hit a three on a feed from LeBron and had two good assists where he found both Andy and JJ under the hoop for easy buckets. While Jawad, JJ, and Green were able to contribute, Andy Varejao had an uncharacteristically poor game. Coach Brown felt that Andy did not match up well with anyone in the Thunder frontcourt and he saw limited minutes while Shaq and JJ dominated the paint. Andy was a game worst –16 which is a stat he typically tops for the game and the season.
The Thunder are a really talented team and their success should not be considered a surprise at all. Durant is bona fide superstar and he is surrounded by young emerging talent. But OKC had played 6 games in 9 nights and were on the second leg of a back-to-back. It is a good win for the Cavaliers who struggled immensely in the “beating themselves” category with 20! missed free throws and nearly as many turnovers. It was a great game and fun to watch Shaq and LeBron come through as they have done so often throughout their careers. Gibson and Parker, especially, have to step up. LeBron and Shaq will not be able to maintain that output every game so here’s hoping that some of the other pieces in this rotation improve with more time on the floor.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)