OKC Thunder make it 5 in a row with defeat of Cavaliers – grades

JANUARY 4: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 and Steven Adams #12 of OKC Thunder high five each other during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
JANUARY 4: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 and Steven Adams #12 of OKC Thunder high five each other during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder
JANUARY 04: Dennis Schroder #17 of the OKC Thunder fights for a loose ball with Alfonzo McKinnie #28 of the Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Best OKC Thunder Reserve:

A. . PG. Oklahoma City Thunder. DENNIS SCHRODER

Dennis Schroder continues his midseason growth and is impressing with how he’s embraced his current role.

I’m not sure we’ve ever witnessed a player in his seventh season show this much growth in the middle of a campaign. The difference between early season to this point is night and day. Schroder no longer forces up shots or insists on calling his own number. They often say players typically reach a point in their careers where the game slows down for them and it generally equates to improvements and the ease to read the game.

Arguably this is the Chris Paul effect and it would make sense he’s working with Schroder to help him see things better. Yet, the more impressive fact is the German’s acceptance of making these little tweaks. And hey, I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that the Thunder are winning.

On the night Schroder led the team in scoring with 22 points adding two rebounds, three assists, and a steal. He was a team-high plus 19 and hit two of his 3-point shots.

Notably, Schroder outscored the entire Cavaliers bench 22-19.

Best Opponent:

. PG. Cleveland Cavaliers. DARIUS GARLAND. A

Although his backcourt partner Collin Sexton had the better point (30 versus 20) total I was more impressed by the overall game of Garland. As a rookie, he’s doing a better job of looking for his teammates and trying to play within the game. Sexton tends to only hunt his own shots which is likely where much of the friction with Love stems from.

Interestingly, the Cavaliers drafted Garland with the stated strategy of having them both handle the ball, keep it moving and to be playmakers. Instead what’s occurring is Garland is playing that role while Sexton has become a scorer with the mindset he is the first, second and third option (or at least based on what we witnessed tonight and what yours truly has witnessed in prior games that seems to be the case).

When a team is headed to the lottery perhaps it’s understandable, but when a team is trying to build an identity and culture this type of dynamic can be detrimental.

As for Love’s assertions the first unit is being selfish, we can’t know for sure if he’s referencing the entire unit but it would seem it’s Sexton in particular. For his part Love has the right to speak given he left a team (Timberwolves) as their primary option and star and took a backseat to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and altered his game. He knows how to be a “team” player so his angst is understandable.

Since this afternoon Love took to his instagram to make it clear it’s not his teammates and he loves them. But, this followed a previous post after the incident featuring Joakim Phoenix’s Joker face with his fingers forcing a fake smile.

It wouldn’t be the first time Love has pulled the spin doctoring of a situation since it was common knowledge LeBron James didn’t speak to him for months in Cleveland and Love always made light of the very real friction.

Other notes:

More from Thunderous Intentions

Darius Bazley and Hamidou Diallo had strong showings in this match getting in rhythm shots and scores.

  • Nerlens Noel twisted his ankle in the third quarter after stepping on another players’ foot. He immediately exited the court and didn’t return to the match.
  • The Cavaliers had better efficiency from both the field (45.9 percent to 44.8 percent) and perimeter (46.7 percent to 37.8 percent) but took 11 fewer shots and got to the charity stripe nine fewer times.

    The Thunder bested the Cavaliers in most major categories

    • 52 to 42 rebounds (18 to 9 offensive boards)
    • 24 to 19 assists
    • Six to four steals – four to zero blocks
    • 10 to seven fast break points – 46 to 44 points in the paint

    Next up for the OKC Thunder, they continue the road trip with a stop in Philadelphia who are reeling after losing all four road games from their recent trip and have been off since Friday. Joel Embiid has already called this game a must win for the 76ers who are 16-2 on their home court. Suffice to say this next game will be a battle. Bring on the clutch time kings!

    Next. The official Thunder Big board 1.0. dark

    For a full box score of tonight’s match against the Cavaliers, click this ESPN link. As always, we appreciate your thoughts on the games and our grades so please feel free to post them in our comments section.