James bails out depleted Cavaliers

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. PHOTO: AFP

Superstar's 33 pts instrumental in home win that also ends Thunder's 6-game winning run

CLEVELAND (United States) • The Cleveland Cavaliers were without three of their top guards and down by double figures twice to the hottest team in the National Basketball Association.

But they were at home, and had LeBron James, a combination that almost always results in a victory.

The superstar forward scored 33 points and fell one rebound shy of his first triple-double of the season, as the Cavaliers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-100, ending the visitors' six-game winning streak.

The game on Thursday included a scary moment involving PGA golfer Jason Day and his wife Ellie - which overshadowed a terrific showdown between James and Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook had 27 points and 10 assists while Durant scored 25 points.

But both stars missed potential game-tying three-pointers in the final 10 seconds.

Oklahoma City led by 12 points in the second quarter before the Cavs scored 18 straight to take the lead.

Forward Serge Ibaka's three-pointer with 5min 44sec left in the third quarter again put the Thunder up 69-58 but they could not hold it.

"We relaxed," Durant said.

"We missed some shots and they came back. It's frustrating.

"Of course, we want to win. We always end up being up 10 points, and in the fourth quarter, we don't start off so well. We dig ourselves a hole and have to fight back. We just have to be better."

The Thunder have still won 10 of their last 13 games. Those three losses, all against top-four Eastern Conference teams and all on the road, were two-possession games during which the Thunder failed to make critical plays late.

Cavs centre Tristan Thompson had 12 points and 15 rebounds, including 11 offensive rebounds.

Forward Kevin Love did not make much of an impact until the fourth quarter, when his rare four-point play tied the game at 78.

His full-court, football-style pass to James led to a three-point play that gave Cleveland an 81-78 lead.

Love jogged to the sidelines after completing the pass and slapped hands with Johnny Manziel, an American football quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

He finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

"You could sense that part of the game plan was to keep the ball out of my hands and slow me down," Love said.

"Tried to stay with it. All it takes is one good quarter sometimes so I had to keep my mind in it."

The Thunder were playing the second night of a back-to-back after a blowout home win on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Cavs were without three of their top guards: Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert and Mo Williams.

Shumpert sat out with a groin injury suffered during Tuesday's win at the Boston Celtics.

Williams sprained his thumb in the same game.

Earlier in the week, there was thought to be a chance Irving could make his season debut against the Thunder but it remains likely he will return tomorrow against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Cleveland improved to 11-1 at home this season.

They are 31-2 in their past 33 games at the Quicken Loans Arena.

"To play without three significant guards, you gotta have a guy like LeBron in order to beat a team like Oklahoma City," Cavs coach David Blatt said.

"That's the best way I can put it and he did it once again."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'James bails out depleted cavaliers'. Print Edition | Subscribe