LeBron James scores 34 vs. OKC, leads Cavs to 6th straight win
The sold-out arena buzzed with 20,000 fans decked out in matching gold T-shirts. There was a national TV audience, two high-profile teams and All-Stars all over the floor.
It felt like the playoffs in January. LeBron James played as if it was June.
James scored 34 points, including the first eight in the fourth quarter, and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 108-98 on Sunday for their sixth straight win.
James made a pair of 3-pointers and a nasty fade-away jumper to give the Cavs a 91-80 lead. Later, the four-time MVP fed Kevin Love for a 3-pointer with 3:38 left that put the Thunder away.
The Cavs, who seemed to be unraveling two weeks ago during a six-game losing streak, are now 6-1 since James returned after missing eight games with a strained back and knee.
After going scoreless in the third quarter, James scored 12 in the fourth as the Cavs kept their momentum rolling.
"We’re a confident bunch," James said. "But for us, we’re a humble bunch. It’s one game versus a very experienced team, a very talented team, a very good team that’s been together for a while. It shows that we can match up with some of the high-caliber teams."
Love added 19 points and 13 rebounds, Kyrie Irving scored 21 and J.R. Smith had 14 as the Cavs concluded a 4-0 homestand. Reserve Tristan Thompson grabbed 16 rebounds.
Kevin Durant scored 32 with nine assists and Russell Westbrook had 22 points for the Thunder, who went 3-2 on their longest road trip this season. Dion Waiters, acquired from Cleveland in a three-way trade earlier this month, added 14, but the Thunder shot only 39 percent and couldn’t get big shots to go down.
"We were a couple of possessions away from really turning the game to a different outcome," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Give them credit. They’re playing good basketball right now and they have three great players."
James sat out Cleveland’s previous game at Oklahoma City on Dec. 11 with a sore left knee, and Brooks was hoping he wouldn’t have to see No. 23 again.
"I want him to miss tonight’s game too," Brooks said with a laugh before the opening tip. "I want every advantage I can get. He’s not missing it, is he?"
Unfortunately for the Thunder, and the rest of the league, James is back to playing like himself after the two-week health break. He is averaging 30.3 points in his past seven games, attacking the rim with renewed vengeance. His flurry early in the fourth was capped by a long 3 over Waiters, and James punctuated the shot with a menacing glare toward Oklahoma City’s bench.
The matchup between the NBA’s past two MVPs — and teams expected to contend for the title — had a playoff-like vibe. Both teams played as if there was more at stake. There were highlight-reel worthy dunks, hard fouls and some trash talking.
Waiters was booed when he came in as a sub in the first quarter. Cavs fans didn’t appreciate his recent comments that he didn’t touch the ball enough when he was in Cleveland.
"I didn’t pay any mind to that," said Waiters, who hugged James following the game. "It is what it is. Boos, no boos. I can’t focus on that kind of stuff."
The Cavs have held their past four opponents under 100 points.
"The defense sparks the offense," James said. "That’s going to be the staple for our season. When we defend, the offense comes a lot easier."
Thunder: C Kendrick Perkins started for Steven Adams, who was slowed by a migraine headache. Perkins fouled out in the final minutes. … Oklahoma City is one of just nine teams in league history to be nine games under .500 in the first half of the season before climbing to .500 by the midway point (through 41 games).
Cavaliers: The Cavs are 13-0 at home when scoring at least 100. … A prolific scorer in his own right, Smith marveled at the 37-point third quarter Golden State’s Klay Thompson pulled off the other night. "13 for 13 in the third, 9 for 9 from 3, 37 (points), unbelievable," Smith said. "He should have just walked off the court in the third with the old Larry Bird, one finger up, `I’ll see you all in the locker room, man, I’m hitting the showers.’"