Rude homecoming for Waiters
CLEVELAND– It wasn’t the homecoming he had hoped for.
Dion Waiters came back to Quicken Loans Arena as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time since he was traded and it was a rude homecoming for the third year pro.
When Waiters came off the bench as the Thunder’s sixth man with 7:16 to play in the first quarter, he came in to a chorus of ‘boos’ as he was introduced.
"I didn’t pay that any mind," Waiters said. "It is what it is. Boos no boos, I can’t focus on that type of stuff. It is what it is."
Waiters was asked if he knew why he was booed.
"I don’t know," he said. "It didn’t do anything to me. I’m still going to go home and sleep at night, so it is what it is."
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers won their sixth-straight game 108-98 to improve to 25-20 in front of a sellout crowd of 20,562. The game was also nationally televised by ABC.
Waiters played a bit over 33 minutes and finished 5-of-15 from the field with a pair of three point shots on seven attempts. He scored 14 points and had three rebounds and two assists.
"We didn’t finish how we would’ve liked to," Waiters said. "But we came out and played hard and gave it our best."
In the first half, Waiters had eight points including two treys. LeBron James covered Waiters in part of the rotation after that.
In the third quarter, Waiters came in and promptly missed a three. He then tried a runner with one second on the shot clock, but Tristan Thompson went high in the air to block the ball out of bounds much to the delight of the crowd.
Moments later, Waiters had his best sequence as he slashed to the basket and hit two lay ups to close out the Thunder scoring in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, James hit back-to-back threes in the fourth with Waiters guarding him, the second with 9:41 to play to give the Cavs a 91-80 lead.
Waiters missed his final three shots, including back-to-back wide-open three point shots in the fourth quarter.
Waiters hugged former teammate Kyrie Irving among others after the game.
"(Irving) just said he loved me and he’s happy for me and vice versa," Waiters said. "That’s my friend. We’re cool. That’s all it was. Same thing (with James). He said he’s happy for me and to keep it up."
Waiters said there was no trash talking between he and his former teammates.
"Nobody said anything to me, " he said. "We just played basketball."
Waiters, who was the Cavaliers first-round draft choice (4th overall) in 2012, was traded to the Thunder on Jan. 5 as part of a three-way deal with the Cavs, Knicks and Thunder. The Cavaliers acquired J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in the deal.
Smith finished with 14 points on 4-of-14, all three-point shots, while Shumpert had three points in his second game back from injury.
In Cleveland, Waiters averaged 14.3 points and 2.8 assists in 164 games with the Cavs .420 field .328 on three-pointers
Since the trade, the Thunder are 5-4 and Waiters was averaging 11.4 points a game with 1.3 assists a game going into Sunday’s game. His field goal percentage is .398 and .250 three-point percentage is a career low.
"He’s been great," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game. "I’ve enjoyed to get to know him as a person. I like his competitiveness as a player. He has the versatility for our team."
Brooks sounded as if he sees Waiters as a work in progress.
"We’re still in the feeling out process but I like what he’s done in the couple of weeks that we’ve had him," Brooks said. "He’s played well and has had some good stretches for us.
"There’s a side for me I like to see that him to grow," he said. "He’s 23 years old and there’s a lot of basketball ahead for him to get better on the practice floor and that’s how you get better as a player."
Earlier in the week, Waiters told Oklahoma City writers that he feels comfortable with the Thunder.
"I don’t have to worry about nothing else here," Waiters said. "My job is just to play basketball. Everybody on this team made me feel at home from Day One.
"I just try to be aggressive and kick it out for the other guys," he said. "But when it’s mano-y-mano, I just do what I do."