It was a battle of superstars as LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers past Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder 108-98.
Though both teams struggled to shoot efficiently, the Cavs ultimately found more support behind James. Durant's 32 points stood out for the Thunder, as the rest of the team failed to make a consistent offensive impact.
While the two teams may have traded leads throughout the first half, Cleveland emerged as the better team after the break and kept a consistent lead hovering around double digits for the remainder of the contest.
|Game Grades at a Glance|
|Rest of Team||C+|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||Grade|
|Rest of Team||D|
LeBron James: A-
It might have taken him 25 shots, but LeBron finished with 34 points and was the primary factor behind the Cavaliers' victory. Not only did he persist despite struggling with his shot, but he also carried Cleveland in each of its major runs.
Though he managed just five assists, he was still the team's primary floor general. He set up more than a few scores for which he didn't receive credit, and he found open shooters who simply couldn't convert.
Still, it was his scoring impact that ultimately drove his team to the victory.
Going toe to toe with Durant is never an easy task, but James continued to spew confidence when others would buckle under pressure—especially on an off-shooting night. Though the 14 misses guarantee that James' night was far from perfect, there's no denying his positive widespread impact—especially in crucial moments.
Kyrie Irving: B+
With LeBron taking the point-guard role, Kyrie Irving spent much of the game playing off-ball. Though he dropped six assists, it was his scoring—and the timeliness of it—that helped bring his team the win.
He added 21 points on 9-of-21 shooting, with each shot seemingly coming at the most ideal time.
Whether it was to end an Oklahoma City run, break a tie or get momentum rolling, Irving had the Cleveland crowd on its feet each time the ball went through the net.
He came up big as the Cavs maintained their lead down the stretch and did a good job—relative to expectations, of course—defensively in what was a performance with depth beyond the stat sheet.
Kevin Love: A-
Kevin Love began the game with a monster nine first-quarter rebounds, but his production on the glass slowed in the final three periods, when he logged just four more.
Nonetheless, Love was a positive with his scoring impact.
Though he was virtually useless in the paint on offense, he shot 5-of-7 from deep and finished with 19 points. Like Irving, his threes came at critical moments, and the rest of the Cleveland offense fed off that energy.
His second-half effort was instrumental in solidifying the victory, as was his ability to stretch the floor and create openings for James to control the middle.
Tristan Thompson: A
Tristan Thompson might not be the offensive piece that James, Irving or Love is expected to be, but he has emerged a source of consistent two-way production thus far into the season.
Against the Thunder, he hardly disappointed.
Though he took just four shots, he hit three of them and ended the night with 10 points. However, it was his defensive and rebounding impact that were most impressive.
With 16 boards—including five of the offensive variety—Thompson created Cavaliers possessions and kept others alive. His three blocks and overall post presence kept the Thunder from dominating the interior, as he rendered Kendrick Perkins useless, eventually forcing him to foul out.
Though the team's Big Three will be recognized for their scoring contributions, Thompson deserves equal praise. He was fantastic off the bench, and there's little surprise his plus-22 was a game high.
Rest of Team: C
Other than J.R. Smith, the rest of the team was extremely quiet. Smith scored 14 on 4-of-14 shooting, with 12 attempts—and all of his makes—coming from deep.
He began the game slowly and finished in a similarly rough manner, but he provided necessary bench production in between.
The other role players outside of Smith and Thompson did little of note, and Timofey Mozgov went without a field goal in the starting lineup.
In the end, it was a win that belongs to the aforementioned stars with slight contributions from Smith.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant: A-
Durant, like LeBron, was shooting 7-of-16 from the floor at halftime, though he fell five points short of his opponent's first-half scoring total.
He picked up his shooting clip by the game's end, closing the contest by going 12-23 from the floor and finishing with 32 points.
Though James is often credited as the more versatile player, whereas Durant is recognized as the superior pure scorer, Durant notched nine assists—a season high—and six rebounds.
Though the Thunder lost, it was his fellow stars' terrible shooting and lack of production from role players that eventually doomed them.
Like the others, Russell Westbrook fell victim to the first-half inefficiency bug. Scoring a respectable eight points before the midway break, he did so on a terrible 2-of-11 clip.
Though Durant came out of the half with a hot hand, Westbrook didn't fix his shooting problem and ended the night 7-of-25—good for 22 points.
However, it wasn't a completely horrible contest for superstar point guard, as he pitched in nine rebounds and 11 assists.
Still, the lack of reliable scoring outside of Durant ultimately led to the Thunder's demise, and Westbrook played a big role in that.
Serge Ibaka: C+
It was a rough game for Serge Ibaka, who struggled not only to anchor the Thunder's defense in the post but also to make a consistent offensive impact. The big man shot a terrible 2-of-10 from the floor in the first half, including five misses on six three-point attempts.
He finished with 15 points, though he continued to knock them down at a low percentage. He added 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks and steals—but he was outperformed by both Love and Thompson.
With Perkins failing to make any quality impact whatsoever and Westbrook failing to be a consistent Robin to Durant's Batman, Ibaka needed to have a much better game than he ultimately did.
Dion Waiters: C+
Facing his former team, Dion Waiters filled the bench-spark role for OKC. Though he—like his teammates—struggled to shoot efficiently, he did score 15 and saved what would have otherwise been a terrible night for the Thunder bench.
Having eaten up Reggie Jackson's playing time, Waiters is clearly Scottie Brooks' preferred option off the bench, with his production since joining the team making it an easy choice.
He's a volume shooter and fairly useless without the ball in hands. Still, he's a source for quick points even if they should come with a lot of missed shots.
Against Cleveland, we saw just that. And Oklahoma City appears content with it.
Rest of Team: D
With the starters struggling, the Thunder role players failed to step up completely. The rest of the team combined for just 15 points, though few took enough shots to have made a major scoring impact.
Reggie Jackson, the only one expected to make a major impact, continued to see his playing time decline as he went 1-of-5 and finished with a minus-15.
It was a slow night for the entire bench, and though they might not have been given great opportunities, the members of the second unit didn't do much to deserve increased roles.
The Cavaliers have a day of rest before visiting the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.
The matchup will be the teams' first meeting since late December, when Brandon Jennings led Detroit to a 23-point win. James had 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the loss.
However, things should be a bit easier this time around with Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News confirming that Jennings has a full Achilles tear after he left Saturday night's contest against Milwaukee.
Oklahoma City also has an easier contest ahead. The Thunder will face the West's worst team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, Monday night in the second half of a back-to-back.