CLEVELAND — Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and the Cavaliers’ Matthew Dellavedova represented the long and short of it.
Led by the spunky Dellavedova, the Cavs played hard Thursday night, but the Oklahoma City Thunder was just bigger and “badder” while registering a 102-95 victory in front of 18,246 fans at Quicken Loans Arena.
The long-armed, 6-foot-9 Durant, who actually appears much taller, was guarded by the generously listed 6-4 Dellavedova most of the night and led Oklahoma City (50-18) with 35 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes.
Cavs small forward Alonzo Gee picked up two fouls in the first 1:49 of the game and, with only nine healthy players in uniform, Cleveland coach Mike Brown was forced to go to Dellavedova to defend Durant.
Asked his thoughts at that point, Brown said, “‘Come on, Delly.’ Hey, Kevin Durant has 7 inches, 10 inches on him. One thing Delly is going to do: He’s going to fight.”
With Dellavedova fronting and hounding Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer (31.8) started the game 1-for-6, but caught fire after that and made 11 of his last 15 shots.
“Nobody’s stopping Kevin Durant,” Brown said. “I thought (Dellavedova) fought his butt off.”
If only the Cavs (26-43) had worked that hard on the boards.
Cleveland was outrebounded by a whopping 53-36, including 18-9 on the offensive glass. Oklahoma City had 13 offensive rebounds in the first half alone, helping it turn a seven-point deficit into a 10-point lead at intermission.
Tristan Thompson had 10 rebounds for the Cavs and Anderson Varejao had eight, but no one else had more than four. Spencer Hawes, who stands 7-1, played 25 minutes before he got his first board, that coming with 5:37 left in the game.
“We just gave up too many offensive rebounds in the first half,” Brown said. “On top of that, we didn’t get after 50/50 balls.
It seemed like every time the ball was bouncing on the ground, Oklahoma City got it.”
The Thunder led 95-71 with 6:34 to go in the game before Cleveland, which was playing without Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, C.J. Miles and Anthony Bennett, made the final moments interesting.
With Oklahoma City taking a brief nap and Durant on the bench for the first 8:26 of the final quarter, the Cavs went on an 11-0 run. Even when Durant came back in, that spurt stretched to 16-0 and 21-2, pulling Cleveland within 97-92 with 1:12 left.
Reggie Jackson, who started at point guard for the Thunder while All-Star Russell Westbrook took the night off, missed a short jumper, but the Cavs didn’t corral the rebound. Durant eventually made two free throws with 37.6 seconds to go and the game was basically over.
In reality, though, the game changed late in the first half, as Oklahoma City scored seven points in the final 1:14 to go up 56-46 at intermission. The Thunder scored 35 points in the second period.
“That can deflate you a little bit,” Brown said. “It did deflate us a little bit, but I thought our guys stayed with it and kept fighting.”
Dion Waiters carried the Cleveland offense with 30 points on 11-for-25 shooting from the field and 6-for-12 at the line, while Hawes added 20 points. Dellavedova posted his first career double-double with 11 points and a career-high 10 assists.
“Delly did a great job for us coming off the bench,” Brown said.
The Australian made Durant work, but just wasn’t tall enough to stop the defending league scoring champ once he got the ball.
“At the start, I think he struggled catching it a couple times, but then he started getting catches,” Dellavedova said.
“There’s no way you can guard a guy like that one-on-one. You’ve just got to try to force him where the help is.”
Said Durant: “I just don’t care if I miss. Sometimes I have to get my mind ready for a tough shooting night, but I always stay aggressive.”
Serge Ibaka had 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks for the Thunder and Jackson had 13 points, four rebounds and six assists, while Cavs starters Gee (7), Thompson (5) and Jarrett Jack (6) combined for just 18 points on 7-for-20 shooting.
The Cavs forced 18 turnovers and turned them into 24 points, but their inability to hold their own on the boards and contain Durant was too much to overcome.
“They were just more aggressive,” said Waiters, who had two rebounds in 41 minutes. “I blame myself, also. I’ve got to get down there and help the bigs.
“As guards, we’ve got to rebound, too. I don’t think my focus was as good as it should have been on rebounding the ball tonight.”