A national television audience was deprived of a LeBron James – Kevin Durant matchup on Thursday, thanks to the Cavaliers wanting to be cautious with the knee soreness that James was experiencing, and deciding it would be best for the team’s long-term prospects if he were to sit this one out.
In the short-term, that meant a 103-94 loss in Oklahoma City, one which snapped Cleveland’s eight-game winning streak.
Kyrie Irving gave the Cavaliers yet another injury scare late in the first half, when he banged knees with Russell Westbrook, and appeared to suffer a serious injury. The team examined him at halftime, however, and it was diagnosed as simply a bone bruise, meaning he could return to play in the second half.
Irving ended up playing over 40 minutes, and finished with a team high 20 points (on 7-of-21 shooting) to go along with six assists.
On the Thunder side, Westbrook got things going with an aggressive 16-point first half performance. It was Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter, though, who put this one out of reach.
Oklahoma City led by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter, before getting sloppy and allowing the Cavaliers to rally. Cleveland cut it to four with two minutes to play, but Durant came through with a dunk, a steal on the defensive end, and a one-legged Dirk Nowitzki-like fadeaway jumper to push the lead back to eight, and essentially seal it.
It wasn’t a terrible loss for the Cavaliers with LeBron sidelined, but it was an important win for the Thunder, who needs to start piling them up against any opponent in order to make a postseason push. The slow start the team suffered with Westbrook and Durant missing the start of the season due to injury dug a fairly big hole, but with OKC winning its fourth straight, the Thunder now find themselves just two-and-a-half games back of Phoenix for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.