All season long, the Cleveland Cavaliers have searched for a statement road win. Trips to Golden State, San Antonio and Toronto ended in disappointment, and the Cavs have been a demonstratively worse team away from Cleveland all year.
That all changed Sunday.
Kevin Love scored a team-high 29 points, and LeBron James added 25 as the defending Eastern Conference champs caught fire from the floor in a 115-92 victory over the Thunder in Oklahoma City at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Cleveland shot 51.3 percent from the floor overall, including an impressive 43.5 percent mark from beyond the arc. This all came despite point guard Kyrie Irving being limited to only nine minutes because of flu-like symptoms. With backup Mo Williams also on the mend with a knee injury, Cleveland's only healthy point guard was Matthew Dellavedova.
Luckily, the 2015 playoff hero was up to the task, as was the team's franchise face. Dellavedova recorded seven assists in his 29 minutes, while James had 11 dimes in an all-around strong performance. The Cavaliers found a ton of success in lineups featuring James as the primary ball-handler with Love patrolling the outside and Tristan Thompson crashing the glass.
Thompson finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds, his third straight double-double. He has pulled down double-digit rebounds in seven of the Cavaliers' eight February games. With Timofey Mozgov still struggling and Channing Frye due to make his Cleveland debut soon, Thompson has established himself as the clear starter at center.
Justin Rowan of Fear the Sword highlighted Thompson's subtle strengths:
It's been quiet, but Tristan Thompson is having a really good game. His PnR defense has been really good— Justin Rowan (@Cavsanada) February 21, 2016
The Thunder were led by a solid effort from their Big Three, who at least did their job offensively. Kevin Durant scored a team-high 26 points and accounted for four of the Thunder's five three-point makes. Russell Westbrook added 20 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists as part of a near triple-double. Westbrook also did a bunch of Westbrookian things that attempted to break the Internet:
russell westbrook dunks gotta count for at least 16 or 17 points there's no way it should be worth the same as a dellavedova running layup— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) February 21, 2016
Russell Westbrook: 1— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 21, 2016
With Serge Ibaka sticking around his season average with 12 points, there was plenty to like from an offensive perspective. It just wasn't enough. Oklahoma City was limited to 19 free-throw attempts compared to Cleveland's 27, and the Thunder were out-rebounded 49-39.
While the contest was mostly even in the first and fourth quarters, the Cavaliers blew the game open in the second and third. They outscored Oklahoma City 68-45 over that stretch, including a dominant run in the final eight minutes of the third that salted the game away. The Thunder had brought the game back within four points after a Russell Westbrook bucket with 8:08 remaining in the third, but then Cleveland went on a 29-7 run as a deflated Thunder fanbase watched on.
The loss is by far Oklahoma City's worst at home this season. The Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings are the only other teams to beat OKC by double digits at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and the defeat marks the Thunder's second straight. They had not dropped back-to-back games since losing at Atlanta and Miami on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3, respectively. With six of their next seven games coming on the road and the lone home game coming against Golden State, the Thunder are in real danger of a post-break swoon.
The Cavaliers have won five straight games by an average of 15.6 points. Four of those wins have been by double digits and the last two against playoff teams. They have winnable contests against the Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets later this week before a road showdown in Toronto on Friday. That will be the biggest game on the marquee, as the Raptors have cemented themselves as Cleveland's biggest challenge in the East.
Before Sunday, smart money probably would have been on the Cavs shrinking on the road. After its steamrolling of the Thunder, though, Cleveland might be coming into its own under head coach Tyronn Lue.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan offered his thoughts, per Nick Gallo of the Thunder's official website:
"Cleveland played very well this afternoon so give them credit. What we’ve been trying to work on is that consistency and defensively it was not there tonight. They went on a run, we’re missing some shots and then it really bled into our defense there in that third quarter. Pretty much from there, they were able to get way out in front and it was an uphill climb.”
Westbrook offered his thoughts: “I thought we came out of halftime with a good mindset. We came out with some stops and got into transition. They weathered the storm and made more shots than we did.”
As did Durant: “We fouled them a lot and they made threes. They made shots and we didn’t…Threes, tough twos and free throws. That’s how they beat us."
Lue offered praise for James, per Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com: “When he plays the elite [teams] he really gets up for it."
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter