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Hot Start Not Enough for Thunder, Inched by Cavaliers in Return to Paycom

Despite holding an 18-point lead, the Oklahoma City Thunder failed to cash in Saturday evening, falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have made a name for themselves in digging out of deemed “insurmountable” deficits. As for Cleveland Cavaliers – they also have gotten a namesake for their play-from-behind prowess.

On Saturday evening, the Thunder caught the other side of the coin, floundering an 18-point lead to the Cavaliers 107-102.

As a byproduct of the contest, Oklahoma City now holds a 14-28 record. The loss marks the franchise’s sixth plummet in the last seven games.

Mark Daigneault elected to tango with Cleveland’s stalky starting crew, opening the night with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Derrick Favors together in the frontcourt. It paid instant dividends – mounting a 8-2 start to play. Cleveland snuck their way back to tie the game at 20 apiece, but a 12-4 Thunder cap shot them up 32-24 through one.

The second quarter saw the Thunder continue to match the Cavs’ size, out rebounding the opposition 37-20 by half while steering a 56-46 lead at the halftime horn.

In the first 24 minutes, Oklahoma City mingled with the 50/40/90 club shooting 48.9% in all and 45.5% from distance while hosting three double-digit scorers.

The Thunder continued to pack the pressure on the Cavs, snowballing their lead to 18 in the period. However, nine-straight Cavs points to end the half, highlighted by a trio of free throws in the final second, tightened the game to 85-83 headed into the fourth.

In all, the Cavs pioneered a 27-11 stretch to conclude the frame.

The final frame saw a flurry of lead changes, setting the stage for a tie game inside the two minute warning. In the last moments, a Mike Muscala three cut the Cavs’ lead to one inside 30 seconds. But, on the other end, the Cavs caught the last laugh off of a Lauri Markannen catch-and-shoot three. Oklahoma City could not find the time to post a comeback.

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For Oklahoma City, Saturday marked their second-consecutive game of shooting high levels from distance, finishing the night on a 10-of-27 (37.0%) palate. The perimeter reigned supreme in the Paycom as prominent paint play forced extra help inside, pivoting to attempts from deep. However, wavering outputs in the second half held them vulnerable down the stretch.

With said opening, Darius Garland stepped up to the plate, starring for the Cavs with 27 points and 18 assists.

Garland starred as one of five Cavs in double figures as frontcourt pieces Evan Mobley, Kevin Love, Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markannen posted 20, 13, 12, and 12 points, respectively.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander carried over his interior-minded play from Thursday straight to the weekend, capping his 34 minutes of run with 21 points and seven hits at the line. SGA pivoted from 18 points in the paint from Barclays to 12 such points in the Paycom. With a slew of adjustments, Gilgeous-Alexander turned into an impromptu passer, rattling off seven assists.

Darius Bazley feasted around the block to hoard 17 points and seven rebounds off of the bench. Bazley struggled from distance shooting a lowly 1-of-4, including an air ball, but it didn’t stunt the forward’s confidence. Inside, Baze gave defenders headaches with secondary moves, exhausting hard gathers and spins for layups, foul tries, and a posterizing two-handed slam.

Lu Dort posted a hardy first half, propped by 10+ points, but a relegated offensive role set the guard to 17 points at the end of play. Dort generated his offense from all levels, knocking down a pair of triples before tapping inside for easy looks.

Ty Jerome played the role of “spark plug” Saturday evening, spewing out 10 points in 16 minutes, extending from deep for a pair of 30-foot jumpers.

Next up, the Oklahoma City Thunder (14-28) will enter a four-game road stand, first facing the Dallas Mavericks (23-19) on Monday.

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