Thunder’s home win streak snapped Cavaliers
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Coach Byron Scott and the Cleveland Cavaliers have found a new way to maximize rookie Kyrie Irving’s closing skills when it matters the most.
Antawn Jamison scored 21 points, Irving orchestrated a decisive run in the final 3 minutes and the Cleveland Cavaliers snapped Oklahoma City’s 14-game home winning streak by beating the Thunder 96-90 on Friday night.
For the second straight game, Scott closed the game with a three-guard lineup featuring the 6-foot-9 Jamison as the only player taller than 6-6. It paid off with the team’s first back-to-back road wins of the season.
“It allows the lane to open up that much more …. I’m able to attack. The basket just seems that much more open than when we have our bigs in.
“No offense to our bigs,” Irving said with a smile, “but we didn’t need them tonight.”
The Cavaliers kept it close by turning the normally fast-breaking Thunder into a half-court team. Oklahoma City converted only three transition baskets until trying to make a dramatic comeback in the final minute.
“We just made it a point of emphasis before the game just to stop the transition points. They do a heck of a job of getting alley-oop, dunks and highlight plays, so we just wanted to limit that tonight,” said Irving, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft.
Neither team led by more than five until the final minute, when the Cavaliers were putting the finishing touches on a 12-0 run spearheaded by Irving.
Irving drove for a pair of layups to put Cleveland ahead and then found Jamison wide open under the basket for a layup to make it 90-85.
“That lineup is probably our best lineup right now, especially closing out games,” Scott said. “I think it gives teams problems as far as matching up with us.”
Kevin Durant tried to lead Oklahoma City back, but missed on a pair of 3-point attempts. He finished with 23 points and Russell Westbrook scored 19 for the Thunder.
“We just couldn’t get stops when we needed to,” said top reserve James Harden, who scored 15. “We didn’t rebound the ball and they made some big shots.”
The Cavaliers finished with a 51-40 edge on the boards, including 21 offensive rebounds.
“We were a step slow,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We turned it over (17 times) and gave up too many offensive rebounds. I think that’s the game right there.”
Cleveland had lost six in a row before Irving hit the game-winner in a 100-99 victory at Denver, the NBA’s highest-scoring team. The Cavs followed it with an even more impressive defensive performance against the Thunder, third in the league with 102.3 points per game.
Oklahoma City was limited to its lowest-scoring total at home all season, falling to 17-2 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We were able to come in and do this to one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league and a team that doesn’t lose at home,” Jamison said. “For us to come in and stay focused and get that type of victory, this is by far the biggest win of the season.”
The Cavs, who allow the league’s second-fewest fastbreak points per game, kept it close by allowing only two transition baskets by the Thunder in the first half to trail 51-49. Then, they were able to duplicate that effort while allowing only 38 points after halftime.
“That was our No. 1 goal was to make them a half-court team and take away transition baskets,” Scott said. “The only way we could do that, No. 1 you’ve got to run your offense and get good shots and No. 2 you can’t turn it over a bunch of times.”
The Thunder had a season-high 31 points on the fast break in their previous game against Phoenix but managed only 15 — two below their average — in this one. Five of those came in the final 44.4 seconds, after Anthony Parker’s free throw gave Cleveland its largest lead at 94-85.
“We just made it a point to make sure we always had two guys back for sure. Sometimes we were yelling at guys that were in the corner to make sure they start getting back, so at times it was even three guys. A real concerted effort to make sure we did get back.”
Parker had 14 points, Alonzo Gee scored 12 and Irving finished with nine points and 12 assists for Cleveland.
Scott said his players finally decided to say, `Enough is enough,’ after the six-game losing streak and got their act together on the road.
“Obviously that’s a pretty good win, any time you can beat a team this good in their building,” Scott said. “It says a lot about the way our guys came and competed, the way we played.”
NOTES: Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said starting guard Thabo Sefolosha had “another good workout” Friday in his rehab from a tendon injury in his right foot but there still is no timetable for his return. Sefolosha has not played since Jan. 27, missing the past 21 games. “I don’t know the exact date but I know that he is getting better, he’s feeling better and we’ll see,” Brooks said. … The Thunder lead the NBA in free throw shooting (80 percent) but opponents also shoot better against them (78.5 percent) than any other team. … Durant has 24 turnovers in his past five games.