When it got a clean shot attempt at the rim, the Thunder’s offense was efficient on Thursday against Cleveland, but some giveaways on offense and a Cavaliers spurt spanning halftime was the difference in OKC’s loss on the second night of a back-to-back.
As the Thunder’s home stand has gone along, the starts for head coach Mark Daigneault’s group have gotten better and better. In terms of progress, those are the small types of battles the Thunder is looking to make strides with on a daily basis. On Thursday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, even in the second game of a back-to-back, the Thunder had the energy to start, ripping off a 7-0 burst behind 5 quick points from Théo Maledon.
Thanks to some great playmaking from Maledon and Kenrich Williams, who matched a career-high with nine assists for the second-straight game, seven different players scored in double-figures in the game for the Thunder. That’s the sixth time that’s happened this season and it was also the 21st time OKC has had six players score in double-figures this season.
The ball zipped around the perimeter and on drive-and-kicks, but the flip side of that ball movement was some errant passing, offensive three seconds calls and offensive fouls. While the Thunder racked up 28 assists in the game, it also had 18 turnovers that led directly to 24 Cavaliers points. Those giveaways were costly and meant that the hot scoring first quarter for OKC – 38 points on 15-of-24 shooting and 6-of-9 from 3 – was matched by Cleveland.
“We were playing hard and competing. I thought a lot of our breakdowns were execution breakdowns,” said head coach Mark Daigneault. “We brought it competitively tonight and didn’t execute on the level that it would have taken to really hold them in check.”
“(It’s) just being strong with the ball and playing together, solving problems with five guys,” said center Moses Brown, who notched his 7th double-double in his last 13 games with 13 points and 11 rebounds. “Coach talks to us about that all the time and just playing together having proper spacing and being patient.”
That first quarter allowed Cleveland to feel just as confident as the Thunder, and as the game wore on and the Thunder’s legs began to get weary, the better-rested Cavs surged ahead for a 129-102 win.
After battling back and forth through the first 24 minutes of play to tie up the game at 61, the Thunder lost the slightest of grips on the competition in the final minute of the second quarter. Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton got to the free throw line for two shots, then after a shot clock violation for the Thunder, Sexton’s backcourt teammate Darius Garland attacked and hit a tough runner on the move.
That little 4-0 burst might not have seemed like much at the time, but it was the precursor to a bludgeoning 11-0 run that Cleveland had in store coming out of the halftime locker room. The Thunder started out with five straight missed shots and three turnovers over the first four minutes, providing the Cavaliers with plenty of open floor to score on leak outs and drives on the secondary break and eventually a pair of buckets from Kevin Love to give Cleveland a sudden 15-point lead.
“I think we did compete, and I think we did play together but for the most part it was just transition and a lot of stuff we can fix it,” said Brown. “(We’ll) just watch it on film and get it together in practice.”
In an attempt to quell that Cleveland run, Jerome drove into the lane from the right wing and kicked the ball out to Maledon in the left corner. The Thunder’s spacing was a bit off, as Williams was still hanging in that left corner, but even deeper towards the baseline.
Instinctually, Williams cut hard towards the rim down the baseline and Maledon sliced in a slick bounce pass with his right hand, curling the ball deftly around Williams’ defender. Kenny Hustle grabbed the ball and went straight up to the rim, adjusting in mid-air to complete a reverse layup past some oncoming defensive traffic.
— Bally Sports Oklahoma (@BallySportsOK) April 9, 2021
Points for Ty Jerome in the game, a career-high, on 9-of-16 shooting and 5-of-9 marksmanship from behind the three-point line. Jerome also grabbed three rebounds and added 3 assists, doing an excellent job of bouncing back from a subpar overall performance on Wednesday night against Charlotte.
“You’re gonna have some good ones and some bad ones. I just try to stay never too high, never too low, as evenly as possible,” said Jerome. “I really started to lock into that my last year of college. I started meditating, staying in the moment, realizing that the present moment is all you have.
“Since I’ve gotten here, the staff, the front office, my teammates they do such a great job of preaching just to get better every day,” Jerome added. “So whether it’s a good performance or bad performance or win or loss, it’s about watching the film and almost being robotic in your approach to getting better.”
Jerome has shown a knack for knocking down threes and is up over 39 percent from behind the arc during his second NBA season. He’s also stayed committed to operating the offense the right way and has a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio for the year.
“(When) we come out with a sense of urgency and it sustains itself for the rest the game so we just have to keep that sense of urgency throughout the game.”
“We’re ending a pretty tough stretch both from an injury standpoint and from a scheduling standpoint and so I thought we endured it with our head held high.”
The Thunder gets a day off following the back-to-back but finishes off the four-game homestand against Eastern Conference foes with the Philadelphia 76ers, who are battling for the top spot with its Atlantic Division rival, the Brooklyn Nets. The Thunder will rest its bodies and minds on Friday, then get to work on Saturday morning to prepare for the 8 p.m. tip-off.
— Bally Sports Oklahoma (@BallySportsOK) April 9, 2021