'Pushing a bus is not out of the realm': How the Thunder made it to Cleveland to wrap up a four-game road trip

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CLEVELAND — The sun was up and guests were eating breakfast by the time the Thunder arrived at the Ritz-Carlton in Cleveland on Saturday.

It was 8 a.m., roughly 11 hours after the Thunder lost to the Hornets, and 12 hours before the Thunder’s game against the Cavaliers on the second night of a back-to-back.

The Thunder had a doozy of a Friday night/Saturday morning trip.

Snow was falling and the roads were icy when the Thunder buses pulled out of Charlotte’s Spectrum Center on Friday after the game.

The Thunder’s second bus got blocked behind a stalled car, which then caused the bus to get stuck. The back right wheel kept spinning out.

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault and a few staffers got out and started pushing.

“I coached in the G League for five years, so pushing a bus is not out of the realm,” Daigneault said. “If there’s anything the G League prepares you for, it’s bad travel.”

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Cleveland's Jarrett Allen (31) dunks the ball against OKC's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (50) Darius Bazley (7) and in the first half.
Cleveland's Jarrett Allen (31) dunks the ball against OKC's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (50) Darius Bazley (7) and in the first half.

The bus got going and the Thunder arrived at the airport. It was a brief delay soon followed by a much longer one.

The Thunder sat on its charter plane for five hours without moving. First the plane had to be de-iced. Then there was a mechanical problem.

“These experiences, you just have to laugh at them,” Daigneault said. “I do think they’re unifying when you go through them together.”

The Thunder had to switch planes before finally flying to Cleveland.

“It was grueling, for the guys especially,” Daigneault said. “It’s hard enough when you’re changing cities on a back-to-back. Then to do it in these circumstances is tough.”

“It was very … different,” Thunder forward Kenrich Williams said after a pause. “I don’t like making excuses, but you need your rest.”

The Thunder responded well, considering the circumstances.

The Thunder muddied the game up, forcing 22 Cavs turnovers, but Cleveland held on for a 94-87 win.

The Thunder went winless on its four-game road trip.

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CLEVELAND, OHIO - JANUARY 22: Evan Mobley #4 and Lamar Stevens #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers try to block Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on January 22, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio.
CLEVELAND, OHIO - JANUARY 22: Evan Mobley #4 and Lamar Stevens #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers try to block Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on January 22, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Center adjustments

Neither Mike Muscala nor Derrick Favors played Saturday night. Given the Thunder’s travel situation, the veteran big men got the night off.

Having a shortage of centers against Cleveland isn’t ideal.

Daigneault started Darius Bazley and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl down low, both of whom are severely undersized against Cleveland giants Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.

The Thunder closed the first quarter with Williams at center … guarding Mobley.

Thunder 10-dayer Mamadi Diakite also filled in at the five.

The size discrepancy resulted, not surprisingly, in a rebounding discrepancy — 66-51 in favor of Cleveland.

Mobley, the Rookie of the Year favorite, had 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. Allen had 14 points and 13 rebounds.

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SGA stands out

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander kept the Thunder in the game.

He converted a layup to cut Cleveland’s lead to six points with under two minutes left. The Cavs led by as many as 17 points.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 29 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals.

“I was impressed with him,” Daigneault said. “He had a really good floor game, really good poise.”

No other Thunder starter scored more than 10 points.

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Dort gets ejected

Things got chippy in the fourth quarter.

After a loose ball situation, Lu Dort swung his elbows and clipped Cavs forward Kevin Love. The play was reviewed, and Dort was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected.

The Cavaliers crowd, which was near capacity, booed louder and louder each time the foul was replayed.

“Lu’s obviously not a dirty player,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I don’t think Lu knew Kev was behind him … I don’t think Lu would ever try to elbow someone in the face.”

Daigneault said the situation should have never happened.

“I was definitely trying to get a timeout,” Daigneault said. “I was over half court, I might have been on the court, and could not get either of those (officials) to see me for a timeout. That was one source of frustration. I think that would have negated everything that happened after that.”

As for the Flagrant 2 decision?

“I thought (Dort) was still playing the play,” Daigneault said. “(Darius) Garland was trying to grab the ball, and (Dort) was trying to rip it away and caught Love. I get if they want to go Flagrant 1 there to manage the game. If you look at what constitutes a Flagrant 2, I don’t know if that was malicious on (Dort’s) part. We’re frustrated by that.”

Speaking of fouls, Tre Mann had a weird night.

The Thunder rookie recorded four fouls in his first seven minutes.

Daigneault has challenged Mann to fight harder defensively, but Mann might have gone a touch too far against the Cavs.

Josh Giddey fouled out late in the game.

The Cavs attempted 35 free throws to the Thunder’s 16.

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Referee Ed Malloy tries to separate Cleveland's Kevin Love and OKC's Luguentz Dort (5) after the two began to argue after battling for a loose ball during the fourth quarter on Saturday.
Referee Ed Malloy tries to separate Cleveland's Kevin Love and OKC's Luguentz Dort (5) after the two began to argue after battling for a loose ball during the fourth quarter on Saturday.

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Scary moment

Cavs forward Lauri Markkanen went down in heap, and you could tell it was serious when he started slapping the floor.

The Cavaliers abandoned their bench and huddled around Markkanen, who was lying under the basket.

Markkanen was eventually helped off the floor and ruled out for the rest of the game with an ankle sprain.

Former Kansas State star Dean Wade started the second half in place of Markkanen.

Markkanen is in his first year with Cleveland after spending his first four seasons in Chicago. He’s Cleveland’s fourth-leading scorer at 13.7 points per game.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Thunder vs. Cavaliers: Five takeaways from OKC's loss at Cleveland

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