CLEVELAND — After losing their first close game of the season Monday in Orlando, the Cavaliers insisted there were lessons to take away.

All of those were tested Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, which was missing 2017 league Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook.

The Cavs rallied from a 16-point third-quarter deficit, a number that had spelled doom in previous games, taking a two-point lead on a Jordan Clarkson basket with 6:18 remaining. Although they couldn’t close it out, it still felt like progress as the Thunder prevailed 95-86 at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Thunder (6-4) won their sixth consecutive game, and the Cavs slipped to 1-10 heading into a game at Chicago on Saturday.

Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith scored six points apiece in the fourth quarter to help the Cavs tie the game at 84. But an 8-0 run Thunder run spelled the end, the surge including four points from Jerami Grant and a 3-pointer by Alex Abrines to put OKC ahead for good.

Cavs rookie Collin Sexton’s eye-opening experience in his first career start might have been lessened significantly by the absence of Westbrook. But with Westbrook sitting out with a sprained left ankle, Sexton still found himself in a battle of point guards with the Thunder’s Dennis Schroeder.

Inserted into the lineup when George Hill was a late pregame scratch with right shoulder soreness, Sexton finished with a team-high 15 points, two rebounds and one assist in 42 minutes. The eighth overall pick from Alabama, Sexton shot 7-of-14 from the field, falling shy of his season-high of 17 points in the Cavs’ victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 30.

After going 32 minutes in the first three quarters, Sexton headed to the locker room early in the fourth quarter, but returned with 9:15 remaining.

Schroeder countered with 28 points, making 11-of-19 from the field, with seven rebounds for the Thunder. Paul George contributed 18 points and seven rebounds.

The Cavs found themselves seriously shorthanded, with their top two power forwards — Kevin Love (left foot surgery) and Sam Dekker (sprained left ankle) slated to miss significant time. Then at the 6:09 mark in the first quarter Cedi Osman, who started for Dekker, left the game with low back spasms.

Cavs coach Larry Drew used all his resources to make up for those absences, with David Nwaba and Ante Zizic getting minutes, the 6-foot-4 Nwaba playing at the 4. Zizic responded with 10 points and nine rebounds.

The injuries prompted the first start of the season for guard Smith, out of the rotation for three games this season. Getting the nod at small forward, with Osman shifting from the 3 to the 4, Smith started 1-for-7 from the field, his only make a floater, and committed four of the Cavs’ 11 first-half turnovers. Smith finished with 13 points, but made just 5-of-17 field goals, 3-of-11 beyond the arc.

Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson added 11 points each, with Clarkson contributing season highs in rebounds (nine) and assists (eight). Tristan Thompson added 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

The Thunder finished off the second quarter with a 15-6 run, including a 9-0 surge capped by a George 3-pointer, to take a 48-40 lead at halftime. The Thunder extended that run to 23-6, opening the third quarter with a 8-0 surge, getting five of those from Schroeder, to force a Cavs timeout.

The Thunder opened up a 16-point lead, which has been a death knell for the Cavs. They have trailed by that margin nine times in 11 games and lost all nine in that fashion.

But the Cavs found life near the end of the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 71-64 at the break. Then they put together a 10-0 run in the fourth to trim the Thunder’s lead to 78-77, forcing a Thunder timeout with 7:42 left. Smith and Korver made 3-pointers in the surge, and Zizic added four points.

The Cavs were coming off a heartbreaking 102-100 loss Monday at Orlando, a game in which they led by five points with 42 seconds left.

 

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.