Kyrie Irving has spent the 2012-13 NBA season cementing his status as one of the league’s premier players. But because he plays in Cleveland, it has remained largely invisible unless you’re a Cavs season ticket holder or have League Pass.
It’s not invisible to Thunder fans anymore.
Irving scored 13 of the Cavaliers’ final 15 points — and assisted on the other two — on his way to 35 points in leading Cleveland to a 115-110 home victory over the Thunder on Saturday.
Irving, who tied Kobe Bryant for the season-high in scoring by a Thunder opponent, did his best Kevin Durant impersonation in taking over for his team over the final few minutes of the game, refusing to allow the Cavs to squander a late lead and take advantage of having kept the game close through the final stages. Irving got to whatever spot he wanted to get to on the floor and generally embarrassed the Thunder defense as he took control of the late stages.
Meanwhile, Durant was left slightly hobbled after suffering an apparent rib contusion in the second half. Durant was apparently pretty sore after the game, so it bears watching as the Thunder begin a home stand.
KD struggled from the get-go in this one, stumbling to a 1-5 start from the field in the fourth quarter and never really recovering. The Thunder stayed in the game with defensive energy through at least the first quarter, but had some lapses in allowing one of their worst point totals of the season.
A lot of it was Irving’s explosion, but the Thunder’s defensive struggles in the fourth quarter turned a winnable game into a disappointment against what should have been an over-matched opponent. OKC gave up a whopping 39 points in the fourth quarter, which is generally a recipe for disaster no matter who you’re playing.
Oklahoma City’s defensive strategy against Irving left a little to be desired in the 4th quarter — primarily because Scott Brooks never opted to throw Thabo Sefolosha at him in an attempt to slow him down. But with the way Irving was playing, it may not have mattered anyway.
This continues a strange, if not outright troubling, trend for the Thunder in struggling against the dregs of the Eastern Conference. The Thunder had already lost on the road to the Washington Wizards this season entering the Cleveland game, and suffered a second straight defeat at the hands of the Cavs after a surprising home loss to them last season as well.
It’s a little disappointing for the Thunder to be 3-4 in their last seven road games, but there’s nothing like the upcoming home stand to rebuild a little bit of momentum. After taking Super Bowl Sunday off, OKC is back at it Monday with a chance to right the ship.
- I thought it was a good sign at the beginning of the game that the Thunder’s defense was on point. Cleveland didn’t get too many uncontested looks in the early going, even though OKC couldn’t get shots to drop on their own. But the effort, and effectiveness, faded late.
- You knew KD was out of sorts when he missed two of his first four free-throws. Serge Ibaka’s energy on the offensive boards took some of the early sting off the poor shooting early on.
- It was good to see Shaun Livingston out there for Cleveland. It doesn’t seem too long ago that Thunder fans were optimistic he could make for a good backup point guard in OKC. Hopefully he can stick with the Cavs for a while.
- DeAndre Liggins picked up a tech after about two minutes of play. It was his second in two games, and he was sent to the bench for good after he picked it up.
- Perry Jones also got some first-half playing time. He looked a little lost on defense.
- I’m looking forward to a few Nick Collison passes to a cutting Kevin Martin during some big moments in the playoffs.
- Speaking of Martin, he started really strong for the Thunder, playing in his home state. But his brightest moments were only in the first half.
- I’m not really a fan of the Cavs’ court design. And I don’t think the whole scheme is a good look especially when paired with those gold uniforms, for whatever reason.
- Marreese Speights killed the Thunder. The man made 10 of 15 shots and pulled down 10 boards.
- Not a great night for Reggie Jackson. Finished as a -15, by far the worst on the team, and it felt that way as it was happening.
- The Cavs made half their 3-pointers, which is pretty huge in a 5-point win.
- The Thunder can just wash their hands of this one and move on, right? Right.
Next up: Monday at home vs. Dallas.