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Kevin Love helps Cleveland Cavaliers beat Oklahoma City Thunder

By Michael Kinney, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 22, 2016 at 12:41 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- For much of the first half of the season, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love looked like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Despite the team's success, he was part of trade rumors.

But in the two games since the trade deadline passed, Love has shown how valuable he can be to a title-contending team. That included posting 29 points and 11 rebounds in the Cavaliers' 115-92 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

"He gave it to us on both ends," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "Defensively he was engaged, he was in the right spots contesting shots, he was physical in the postups, and his pick and roll defense was great."

Love shot 9 of 18 from the field and was 11 of 12 from the free-throw line. Forward LeBron James, scored only two points in the game's first 10 minutes, but finished with 25 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Guard J.R. Smith added 15 points as the Cavaliers improved to 40-14.

But it was the Cavs physical nature that impressed the players the most.

"We have to bring the fight no matter who we're playing," James said. "It just makes us focus more when we're physical. We're more in tune. That's two straight games that we've been able to do that and I think that needs to be our staple. I think the guys know that."

Forward Kevin Durant scored 26 points on 10-of-21 shooting to lead the Thunder. Guard Russell Westbrook added 20 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. Forward Serge Ibaka scored 12 points but was held to only two points after halftime as the Thunder dropped to 40-16.

Oklahoma is 0-2 since the All-Star break, but it's the way the team has competed that has the Thunder's stars calling everyone out.

"We've got to dig down deep," a frustrated Durant said. "X's and O's and shootarounds and schemes, and practices, that (stuff) is out the window. You've got to dig down deep and decide what you want to do. And that's everybody."

Newly acquired Thunder guard Randy Foye made his debut for Oklahoma City late in the first quarter. Even though guard Andre Roberson was activated before the game, Foye was the first guard off the bench.

The Cavs lost another starter when guard Kyrie Irving left the game early in the second quarter with flu-like symptoms. Despite that, Cleveland held a 62-53 halftime lead.

"I thought throughout the game our physicality is what set the tone for us," Love said.

Oklahoma City fell apart in the third quarter. The offense became stagnant and its defense allowed the Cavs to get almost any shot they wanted. A nine-point deficit became a 22-point margin by the start of the fourth quarter.

Love's ability to hit the outside shot while also diving to the basket for rebounds was too much for the Thunder big men to handle.

For the second time this season, Cleveland wore out the Thunder on the backboards with a 44-38 advantage.

"They just played more aggressive and made some shots," Westbrook said. "We didn't make much. In transition they got some easy buckets."

The loss dropped the Thunder's record to 13-11 against Eastern Conference teams this season. That includes a season sweep by the Cavaliers.

"We've got to regroup and figure out what we can do better and move on," Durant said. "It's the regular season."

NOTES: Oklahoma City G Russell Westbrook, on what position he would play if he played football. "When I started off playing football, I was a running back and linebacker," Westbrook said. "I liked linebacker, I liked contact. I like to hit people." ... Cleveland F Channing Frye didn't travel with the team to Oklahoma City and has yet to play or practice since being traded to the Cavaliers. ... Thunder G Dion Waiters shows he is more than just a scorer. "With Kevin (Durant), Russell (Westbrook) and Serge (Ibaka) out there, the priority for him offensively in terms of getting a lot of looks or having to rely on scoring, is not necessarily a need," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "I've said this about Dion since day one, there is a lot more to Dion. He's a great defender with really, really good vision. I think there's a lot of things he can do." ... Cleveland F Iman Shumpert sat out Sunday's game with a sprained left shoulder. Coach Tyronn Lue said it was just precautionary.

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