Oklahoma City had an opportunity to finish off a five-game road trip on a high note Sunday. A tough loss in Atlanta on Friday night snapped the Thunder's four-game winning streak, and a big game in Cleveland presented the chance to turn a good road trip into a great one.
Instead, OKC looked like a team that had been away from home for over a week, falling to Cleveland, 108-98.
The road trip began with such promise with three straight wins, the last an overtime win over Washington. But a pair of 10-point losses followed in Atlanta on Friday and then again on Sunday against the Cavaliers, souring what could have been a big boost in the standings for OKC.
Instead, the Thunder is back to .500 at 22-22, and now 3.5 games behind Phoenix for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Sunday seemed to be a case of OKC simply looking a bit tired and not playing with the energy necessary to beat a rejuvenated Cavs team. The Thunder didn't play particularly poorly against Cleveland, turning the ball over just eight times and had 26 assists on 37 made field goals. The main problem was the Thunder simply didn't hit enough shots. Oh, there were plenty of open looks for OKC, but most of them didn't find the mark.
For the game, the Thunder shot just 39.4 percent. Kevin Durant led the way with 32 points, six rebounds and nine assists. Russell Westbrook had 22 points, but was just 7-of-26 from the field. He had 11 assists and finished a rebound shy of a triple-double. Serge Ibaka had 15 points and Dion Waiters had 14 points off the bench, but neither shot the ball well.
The Thunder played without Steven Adams on Sunday, finally discovering something that can put the big man out of commission—a migraine. While Adams doesn't gobble up every rebound, he does an excellent job of making sure a teammate is able to get the rebound when he isn't in position to grab one.
Without Adams on the floor, the Cleveland combo of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson were able to dominate the boards. Thompson had 16 rebounds and 10 points, while Love had 13 rebounds to go with 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
Speaking of 3-point shooting, Cleveland hit 16 of those on Sunday. Sure, the Cavs needed 36 attempts to get there, but it was the difference in the game. That, and LeBron James. James had 34 points, 12 of those coming in the final quarter. It was an eight-point blitz from James to start the fourth quarter that put Cleveland up 91-80 just a few minutes into the final period. That stretch wasn't the end of the road for OKC, but it was very significant.
Meanwhile, OKC struggled from beyond the arc, going just 10-of-30 from deep. Westbrook was the Thunder's best 3-pointer shooter on Sunday, if that tells you anything. Many of the shots were open looks, adding further insult to injury.
The Thunder played from behind almost the entire game, but after falling behind halfway through the first quarter, the Thunder rallied and played its best ball of the day. Spurred by the play of the bench unit, the Thunder turned an 11-7 deficit into multiple eight-point leads before closing the quarter up, 26-20.
Another blitz from James to start the second quarter gave Cleveland the lead once again, one it didn't surrender until late in the third quarter.
The road trip that began with such promise ended with another dud on Sunday. At some point, the Thunder is going to have to stop watching the standings and start winning games. Time is slowly but surely running out on the Thunder's playoff chances.