James, Cavs pull away from Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY — LeBron James and his new teammates are playing like old buddies.
James scored 37 points, and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers got a much different result this time against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 120-112 victory on Tuesday night.
Cleveland claimed its second straight win since adding George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. in trades, and their fourth straight victory overall. The Cavaliers lost to the Thunder 148-124 on Jan. 20 with a very different roster.
“It’s a change of scenery and they’re just trying to take advantage of it,” James said. “For the guys that were here, we’re just trying to make them as comfortable as possible. Make the transition as seamless as possible.”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said the changes create a lot of problems.
“I think their ability to space it, drive it, kick it, their skill level, I think — not that it was bad before, but I think the speed, probably the tempo and the pace they are playing at is a little bit faster,” he said.
Each of Cleveland’s additions made solid contributions against Oklahoma City. Hill started at point guard and went 24 minutes without a turnover. Hood and Clarkson each scored 14 points and Nance had 13 points and nine rebounds, including eight offensive boards.
James praised Cleveland general manager Koby Altman for getting what the team needed at the trade deadline.
“It just wasn’t working out for us. He made the changes he felt best fit our team,” James said. “Then, it’s on me to make sure the new guys that come in, that they fit in and make it as seamless as possible. That’s my job. This is the third game in a row my voice is gone. So I am just trying to have communication at an all-time high for us.”
Holdover guard J.R. Smith added 18 points for the Cavaliers. It was Cleveland’s second straight road win against top competition — the Cavaliers rolled past Boston 121-99 on Sunday.
“We’ve got to keep working,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “It’s a process. You’ve got to keep playing well, keep getting better and hit that stride late.”
Paul George scored 25 points and Carmelo Anthony 24 for the Thunder. Steven Adams added 22 points and 17 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook scored 21 points. Westbrook and Anthony had missed the past two games with sprained ankles.
Westbrook had 12 assists and seven rebounds, but he made just 7 of 19 shots.
“This guy has been an ironman for so long, but when you miss two games and practices and you have one day to get back, there could have been, for him, trying to work his way back in to where he was,'” Donovan said. “He’s never going to make an excuse about his ankle or how he feels or anything else. He gave everything, as he always does, to try to win.”
James scored 14 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter, including two 3-pointers, to give Cleveland a 78-68 lead. He was 6 for 6 from the field during that stretch. The Thunder responded with an 8-0 run to get back into the game. Cleveland took a 91-87 edge into the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers took control in the fourth, and a layup by James after driving on George pushed the Cavaliers ahead 115-106 with 49 seconds to play.
The Thunder trimmed their deficit to five in the final minute and could have come closer, but Alex Abrines missed a 3-pointer, and Nance got free for a dunk to seal the win for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers led 62-57 at halftime. James had 16 points, four rebounds and five assists, and Smith had 15 points on five 3-pointers. Adams scored 15 points before the break for Oklahoma City.
Cavaliers: A double foul was called on Nance and Oklahoma City’s Raymond Felton after they got tangled up in the second quarter. … Shot 54 percent in the first half and 51 percent overall. … Committed just seven turnovers.
Thunder: Westbrook was issued a technical foul in the first quarter. It was his 12th of the season. … Had just two turnovers in the first half. … Outrebounded the Cavaliers 51-41.
The Cavaliers are averaging 126 points during their four-game win streak and have scored at least 120 points in each game.
James on Cleveland’s defense against the Thunder. “I don’t know if we contained them. PG (George) was shooting the heck out of the ball. Melo hit some tough shots in my face. Russ was I think three rebounds away from another triple-double. Adams is a beast. We just tried to contain the rest of them.”
Cavaliers: Host the Washington Wizards on Feb. 22.
Thunder: Visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.