Cavs Hang on, Upset Timberwolves 93-92

You know how it feels the next day after you play some pickup ball and everything in your body hurts? You know, your legs are so locked up they won’t bend and your back is on fire because it’s not used to the impact. Then, when you play a little more regularly, your recovery becomes easier and easier even though you are no elite athlete. Well, that was how the Timberwolves came out against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night on their first back-to-back of the season.

Not to make excuses or anything, but the Cavs had the luxury of having Sunday off after an exhausting road game in, oh, Indiana. Whereas the Timberwolves had to cross time zones to play a hard-fought game before facing a young and talented Cavs team. But the Timberwolves’ legs would eventually awaken.

From the start it looked like the Timberwolves may be able to carry over their momentum from the first three games of the season when Corey Brewer raced underneath the basket for a quick hoop to give the team their own lead. But that’s where the superlatives would really stop for Minnesota. Kevin Martin continued his hot start from three, but Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic looked fatigued from playing heavy minutes the night before and then traveling. 

Still, the frenetic pace the Timberwolves operated at during the first few games of the season was not as effective with tired legs. Their timing was off, their shots short and even their defense was slow to react. Consequently, the Cavs — led in part by CJ Miles who finished with 19 points — racked up a 55-38 advantage at the half.

With the injury to Ronny Turiaf in the frontcourt the Timberwolves tried to use rookie Gorgui Dieng on the Cavs’ frontcourt, but Dieng quickly picked up three fouls in three minutes against Andrew Bynum and was never heard from again in the game. Cleveland was really able to take it to Minnesota in the paint during the first half with the Timberwolves unable to run the Cavs out of their own building, but were able to wind up finishing the game with a 48-42 advantage in points in the paint by the end of the game.

The second half started like this: Brewer, turnover; Rubio, missed 22-footer; Pekovic, offensive foul; Martin blocked shot; Pekovic turnover. Despite this slow start by the Timberwolves, the Cavaliers only managed to add two points to this lead before Pekovic sank an easy shot. The Cavaliers made nothing easy on the Timberwolves’ big men, playing a very physical game that caused Pekovic to miss several bunny layups.

After playing much of the third quarter down by as much as 20, it seemed that the game was likely out of their hands even though they entered the final frame down by 15. It really felt as if the Cavs just had another gear that the Timberwolves just didn’t have last night, and would therefore be a great chance to give someone like  Shabazz Muhammad a baptism by fire, but the Timberwolves had other ideas.

See, I forgot one important thing about basketball in that assessment that I had cemented into my ideology by the Timberwolves: young teams should never, ever, ever be trusted with a 15-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Even if the other team is on the second night of an onerous back-to-back.

Looking to prove me wrong, the Timberwolves came out firing. Brewer threw in a quick layup before Derrick Williams converted a very good three-point play in the paint, and all of a sudden the Timberwolves were in range of returning their deficit to single digits. Cleveland still pushed back with a Jarrett Jack two, a pair of Miles baskets and an Andrew Bynum 14-footer, giving the Cavs an 84-69 lead with about seven minutes left in the game. Timeout Timberwolves.

The most interesting thing to note is that the Timberwolves nearly completed their comeback with Barea, not Rubio, as their point guard. Coach Rick Adelman noted after the game that he went with what was working, which is a thought process that is hard to fault him for. Barea came in and got a couple of easy hoops that gave the Timberwolves hope for one more final push to comeback.

There are three factors that really make a difference in being able to close a game or make a late game comeback: good shots, limiting-if-not-eliminating turnovers and getting stops. The Timberwolves were able to use their ability to d-up the young Cavs and force them to make young mistakes (including bad shots) and turn their mistakes into points.

Eventually, the Cavs found their once great lead down to just three when Kyrie Irving blocked Barea’s layup, but it was Love who picked up the rebound and put in the layup to bring the lead down to 93-92. On the other end, Martin rebounded Irving’s miss and the Wolves brought the ball most of the way up court before calling a timeout to setup one final play. Adelman appeared torn on calling the timeout and let his players get the bucket off of the rebound, but made the smart call to collect his team for one final play. After all, Martin rebounded the shot at 0:14 seconds, which may have left Cleveland too much time to setup for the last shot. This way, the Timberwolves were able to remain in control of their destiny and own the game’s final possession down one.

The Timberwolves inbounded the ball to Barea, who had the ball poked loose as he drove to the hoop, but was able to find Love waiting outside of the arc with room in front of him. Love caught the ball and set his feet and got the ball off in time, but his shot caromed off of the back iron as both teams scrambled for the rebound as time expired in regulation. That was it for the Timberwolves’ comeback hopes in Cleveland.

Really, it was an incredible finish that no one watching the first half saw coming. It wasn’t for a lack of effort or desire that they got down big in the first three quarters, but somehow the team managed to get their second wind and force the Cavaliers to make the same mistakes they were making not too long ago. This was a game the Timberwolves had to experience by getting their first back-to-back under them, as well as some more crunch time experience. Love finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five rebounds. Kevin Martin, who was the only Timberwolf to make a three in this game, added 23 and Derrick Williams added 13 off of the bench. Kyrie Irving finished with 9 turnovers 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, with CJ Miles providing 19 points off of the bench for Cleveland.

The Timberwolves look to regroup at home against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night when we get to listen to parts of the fanbase whine about Steph Curry not being a Timberwolf for the millionth, bajillionth year in a row.

Oh, and #FistB2B.

Notes: 

– Kevin Love has shown an improved ability to pass and willingness, too. For example, Love hit a cutting Williams from the high post late in the fourth to bring the Wolves within five that was perfectly threaded. That was great. However, when Love checks out of a layup five feet from the basket to kick it out to Rubio or Brewer for three…that’s not a good decision, or really a good pass. Especially since he was one-on-one. There’s such a thing as good passing and over-passing, but I don’t want to see him stop– just to find that happy balance.

– Cavs rookie and last June’s first round pick is now 0-15 from the field to start his career and has just two points to show for his first four NBA games. This means nothing unless his career winds up being four games long, but is just interesting to watch.

 

About Derek James

In addition to writing for Howlin' T-Wolf, Derek James writes about basketball Hardwood Paroxysm in the ESPN TrueHoop Network and covers the Charlotte Bobcats for SB Nation’s Rufus on Fire. Andray Blatche and Isaiah Rider follow him on Twitter.