The Cavaliers and Raptors were both enjoying a 1-0 season-series lead over the Thunder before Thursday Night. Then the Thunder evened both series in back-to-back road wins. But that’s not to say they didn’t have to fight hard to secure both wins.
The game in Cleveland was essentially over with the Thunder up 95-71 with 6:34 to play. That’s what Scott Brooks thought as well, allowing both Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, the only two full-time starters active for that game, to sit. That’s when the Cavs sparked a 16-0 run to pull within 8 (95-87) with 2:17 on the game clock, prompting both men to return to the floor. It was a good move, as Ibaka immediately dunked off of a Durant assist to stop the run. The only other Thunder points scored were 5 free throws from Durant, as the Thunder ice the game 102-95, jumping the Thunder to 50-18 which at the time pulled them within a game-and-a-half of the Spurs. The loss dropped the Cavs to 26-43. Although not completely eliminated from playoff contention for the Eastern Conference, they’ve gone 1-1 since, putting them at 27-44, which is still 5 1/2 games behind the current 8th seed in the East.
Durant and Ibaka were both good for double-doubles in Cleveland. Durant posted 35 points and 11 rebounds, while Ibaka chipped in 16 points and 11 rebounds. And the guards did well filing in for Russell Westbrook. Reggie Jackson had 13 points as the fill-in starter, while Derek Fisher and Jeremy Lamb combined for 22 off of the Thunder bench (Fisher: 12, Lamb: 10).
Although you don’t get a good push like that at the end without somebody racking up numbers. Dion Waiter’s 30 points led the Cavs, followed by Spencer Hawes’ 20. Tristan Thompson pulled down 10 boards, although he was only good for 5 total points. Oddly enough, one of the better performances came from the Cavs’ bench, as Matthew Dellavedova quietly posted an 11-point, 10-assist double-double.
Now I’m almost positive the game in Toronto would have given every Thunder fanatic an aneurism if the heart attack didn’t happen first.
Granted we got the win in the 2nd OT, but the Thunder had a chance to end it in regulation. They attempted to drive the lane for the lay-in only to realize they waited too long, and Fisher didn’t get the ball out of his hands until the buzzer had already sounded. Although his attempt got nowhere near the bucket anyway.
Not only that, but the Thunder had a chance to seal the win in the 1st OT as well. All they had to do was play perimeter defense, as they were up 107-104 with less than 10 seconds to play. Leave it to the Thunder to leave Kyle Lowry wide open for the 3-ball that forces a 2nd OT.
The Thunder almost bit the dust and gave the Raptors the series sweep in the 2nd OT. Greivis Vasquez was on fire until he picked up his 6th foul with 2:04 remaining. Yet the Thunder were still down 8 (118-110) with only 49.3 seconds left on the game clock. Durant decides now is the time to heat up, hitting a 3-ball off of a Lamb assist to pull the Thunder within 5. Lowry bricks a 3-ball attempt at the other end, then Fisher drops 3 points, pulling the Thunder to within 2 (118-116) with 15.7 seconds to play. Durant then ends up fouling John Salmons. With a chance to ice the game at the line, Salmons bricks not one, but both free throw attempts, leaving it a 2-point game with 8.8 seconds left. That’s when Durant decided to add to the 2014 NBA MVP resume. Still down two, Durant almost has the ball poked away from him, only to recover it. Realizing there’s not enough time left to drive the lane, Durant launches a prayer that ends up answered with 1.9 seconds left. This win puts the Thunder at 51-18 for the season, while dropping the Raptors to 38-30. As of today though, the Spurs 13-game winning streak still has them up 2 full games for the top spot in the West. And although Toronto’s record is good enough for the Eastern Conference’s 3rd seed, it wouldn’t even get them 9th place in the West. I know I already posted video highlights, but you know you want to see that Durant game winner one last time.
Durant finished with 51 points and 12 rebounds. Ibaka added 13 points, and Westbrook was good for 15 points before a knee-to-knee collision with Lowry resulted in a sprained knee. Although the good news is that an MRI showed no further damage. Honestly, I think even the “sprain” was an exaggeration. He will probably still be rested on back-to-backs, but he’s not expected to miss any additional time. Although his exit paved the way for Jackson’s first career double-double, as he finished with 25 points and 12 boards.
Amir Johnson had a 25-point, 12-rebound double-double for the Raptors. Kyle Lowry also scored 25, and DeMar DeRozan’s 33 points led the Raptors. Jonas Valanciunas grabbed 13 boards, but only managed 8 points. Vasquez dropped an eye-popping 21 points from the Raptors bench before fouling out.
Another back-to-back is in store, as the Thunder host the Nuggets tonight, then travel to Dallas to try to get their win back against the Mavericks tomorrow. The Nuggets will be looking to split the season series with the Thunder, as they try to make it two in a row after winning 101-88 on Jan. 9th. Before that, the Thunder had claimed victories of 115-113 on Nov. 8th, and 105-93 on Dec. 17th. Although the Nuggets don’t have much left to play for. Even though they aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, they’re back 9 1/2 games from the 8th seed with only 10 games left on the schedule. One more loss, or even one more Mavs victory will probably seal their fate. Expect the Mavs to fight much harder, as they are currently a mere half-game ahead of the Suns for the Western Conference’s 8th and final playoff spot. The Mavs will be looking to claim their season series over the Thunder outright tomorrow, as a 115-113 Thunder victory on Nov. 18th, and a 109-86 Mavs victory the Sunday before last has the series knotted up 1-1. Tomorrow’s game against the Mavericks will be featured as the front-end of TNT’s double-header. Tonight’s game has the same 7pm tip-off time, but will be brought to you by the usual suspects: Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.