(The Sports Xchange) - For much of the first half of the season, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love was part of trade rumors, despite the team's success.
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 road victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.
"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 Cleveland's 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."
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."
(Editing by Andrew Both)