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Road-fatigued Thunder keeps game close in 94-87 loss to the Cavs

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault mentioned before the game that the team went through a lot of adversity just getting to Cleveland from Charlotte after the team’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday.

Daigneault said that the team’s bus got stuck on the road due to the icy road conditions that required staff and coach himself to roll up their sleeves and push the bus. Then after that, the team suffered through flight issues; the team’s plane was put on hold for over five hours before finally deciding to switch flights and arrive in Cleveland in the early morning hours. They had to deal with all of this on top of wrapping up a four-game road trip with the second night of a back-to-back.

Now hearing Daigneault describe all that exhausted me, so I can only imagine what the actual players and staff felt like when they finally arrived to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

The Thunder had every reason to lose by double digits as it felt like everything was working against them. Instead, the team was able to push the most surprising team in the league until the final second of this game. The Cavaliers ultimately won this game, 94-87, but the Thunder deserve a ton of credit for playing on fumes and making this an entertaining game — even if it was a sloppy one. Let’s take a look at player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A+

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was arguably the best player on the court this game as he finished with 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting with six assists, nine rebounds and three steals. The most surprising stat is the fact that Gilgeous-Alexander was much more assertive with his three-point shot this game as he went 3-of-7. Gilgeous-Alexander is shooting a career-high 5.7 threes a game this season but has only shot 3.3 attempts on 19.2 percent shooting in his last eight games.

Perhaps Gilgeous-Alexander decided to take more outside shots because driving on the Jarrett Allen-Evan Mobley duo is nearly impossible. Perhaps Gilgeous-Alexander decided to take more outside shots because it was the fourth straight road game and has averaged nearly 34 minutes a game in the first three games. Or perhaps it was a mix of both as to why he decided to take more threes tonight. Nonetheless, it’s encouraging that he was able to make them at a decent clip, considering he’s been arguable the least efficient high volume three point shooter this season in the entire league.

Lu Dort: D+

This was not Lu Dort’s best game as he finished with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting. This comes a day after he scored a season-low three points against the Hornets. As the second leading scorer on the team, the expectations are higher for Dort and having off nights like these are going to hurt the team’s offense.

Dort only managed to play 32 minutes as he was ejected in the fourth quarter after being assigned a flagrant two due to him elbowing Kevin Love. Now according to the NBA’s official site, the definition of a flagrant foul two is the following: “Unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent.”

Now I’m not going to sit here and go back and forth between this call. But from viewing the replays, it looks like Dort’s elbow had no malicious intent at all and just happened. Was it unnecessary? Sure. But what it excessive? I have a hard time seeing that. This was closer to a flagrant one than a flagrant two in my opinion. Which is an opinion that Daigneault shared postgame.

“He got fouled two times. I thought his swing was to rip the ball away from Garland. He was still playing. He caught Love, he was on the other side of him. We’re frustrated by that. He’s our best defender. I was not expecting that outcome.”

Josh Giddey: D+

This was not Josh Giddey’s best game as he finished with eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five rebounds, three assists and three turnovers. Giddey played 34 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Just a poor game overall for the rookie, but considering how successful he’s been this season, I’m sure it’s more of a blip than a trend.

Kenrich Williams: A

Kenrich Williams was one of the few players on the Thunder who had a really good game as he finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting and four rebounds.

More importantly, The Oklahoman’s Joe Mussatto dropped a story right before the game that said Williams would like to spend the rest of his career with the Thunder ahead of the trade deadline. It’s going to be interesting to see how Thunder GM Sam Presti handles Williams as the 27-year-old will certainly have multiple suitors.

Aaron Wiggins: B+

Aaron Wiggins had a good game off the bench with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Wiggins had a nasty spill in the second-half where he landed on his arm and was down for a bit before continuing the game. But it looks like Wiggins is fine as he spoke with the media after the game.

Tre Mann: D

Tre Mann only played nine minutes but was able to contribute with six points. Mann’s minutes were limited due to the fact that he picked up four fouls in those nine minutes. Defense has been Mann’s biggest question mark as a player, so picking up four fouls that quickly is going to make it hard for him to play longer minutes.

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