CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – The streak goes on.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points to lead six from the Thunder in double figures as Oklahoma City cruised to a 117-101 win over the Cavaliers Sunday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, the 10th consecutive loss for Cleveland.
It was just the third win in 10 games for Oklahoma City and the ninth loss by double digits out of the 10 defeats for the Cavs, who missed a golden opportunity to end their nosedive against one of the weakest teams in the Western Conference.
“We just have to be better,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We’ve got to make open shots in order to survive. We’ve got to guard better and be more physical. We have to be better.”
On the bright side, the 117 points were the fewest allowed by the Cavs during the current losing streak, which marks the third double-digit losing streak since LeBron James left for Los Angeles in the summer of 2018.
“They all sting,” Bickerstaff said.
Collin Sexton scored 27 to lead all Cavs scorers while Jarrett Allen had a monster night – a career-high 26 points to go with 17 rebounds in the loss.
Bottom line: the Cavs lost to a team that they should've beat and they didn't even come close.
“It’s very frustrating,” Sexton said. “Tonight, they just out-toughed us. We didn’t play with enough grit. We didn’t play with enough fight and it’s kind of frustrating. It’s definitely frustrating to know that they’re just like us. They lost [three] straight and were basically like, s***, we can come in there and beat the Cavs and get a win.”
Allen didn’t miss a shot, finishing 11-11 from the field to become the third player over the last 30 seasons with at least 25 points and 15 rebounds on 100% shooting in a game, joining Dwight Howard and Dikembe Mutombo according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Over the last two games, Allen is 19-20 from the field and the lone bright spot for a team that is fading fast and on its way off the cliff.
“We just have to put our head down and keep going,” Allen said. “We have to keep fighting. We just have to keep playing and play with more fight. Including myself, we have to do better. I’m scoring these points, [getting] these rebounds but maybe I can help the young guys get in the right spots. Play with more grit. Play with more energy and just win and compete more.”
Bickerstaff emphasized the need to take more threes upon their return from the west coast and Sunday night they chucked from deep often, but with little success.
Eight-for-35 from beyond the arc just isn’t going to get it done.
“We’ve gotta make open shots,” Bickerstaff said. “At the end of the day, that’s what this game comes down to. We had open ones. We gotta keep working at it, keep getting better, keep working in practice but in order to survive this, you gotta be able to make open shots.”
After the game multiple players took the floor once again to get in more work, but netted similar results as the game: lots of misses.
Isaac Okoro put up 11 from downtown, making four while Cedi Osman whiffed completely, going 0-8. Sexton was 1-6 and Darius Garland 2-5 Sunday night.
Sure the Cavs miss Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr. and Matthew Dellavedova. They could use Andre Drummond, who they've elected to collect dust until they can get rid of him, too.
The team can't be played the way they were originally intended but maybe the Cavs also have a talent deficiency problem. Their young players may not be as good as Koby Altman thinks they are, after all, someone has to stuff box scores, even on bad teams.
Even more alarming than the offensive ineptitude continues to be the lack of defense. Grit and intensity were a theme of conversation during post game Zoom video conferences from Bickerstaff to his players.
“We gave up a lot of threes tonight,” Sexton said. “They were shooting wide-open ones because everyone was in a scramble and if you do your job, and lock your man up and take that challenge, we don’t have to be in a scramble.”
Cleveland won the battle in the paint 58-52 and on the boards 42-37, but got crushed in bench scoring, 42-9.
“I made the decision to run our starters longer,” Bickerstaff said. “That impacted the bench scoring.”
Sexton opened the night by scoring the first seven for the Cavs, who jumped out to an early 17-8 lead midway through the opening quarter but OKC finished the quarter on a 23-11 run against Cleveland’s reserves to take a 31-28 lead after 12 minutes.
The second quarter was a sloppy one for the home team. Nine turnovers in the quarter coupled with empty possessions on the offensive end allowed the Thunder to swing the scoreboard by 21 and and head into the locker room leading 62-51.
The Cavs, who finished with 18 turnovers as a team, were unable to overcome an 11-point deficit, 86-75, heading to the fourth quarter as the Thunder pushed out to lead by as many as 20 late.
This latest loss against a team six below .500 now begs the question, is there an end to the pain in sight?
“Nobody is coming to bail us out. Nobody is coming to rescue us,” Bickerstaff said. “The rest of the league does not care about our streak. They see us as an opportunity to get right, right now. And we gotta find that grit and that determination where we actually draw a line in the sand and not only just hold the line but we gotta push forward and cross the line. That’s the only way you get out of this.
“The harder you play, the more gritty you play, the better you give yourself an opportunity to win games in this league and we just gotta find that. We gotta dig down and we gotta find it.”