Timberwolves hold off short-handed Cavaliers for much-needed win
D'Angelo Russell finished with a season-best 30 points on 11-for-13 shooting to go with 12 assists.
CLEVELAND -- After three quarters of solid basketball that had Minnesota in a good spot to grab a key, much-needed win over a short-handed Cavaliers team in Cleveland, things got difficult in the final frame.
That’s just the way of life for the Timberwolves right now.
In the end, Minnesota survived a poor offensive frame mixed with a 27-point fourth quarter explosion from Cavaliers guard Darius Garland to escape with a 129-124 victory.
“There was some shot selection in the fourth quarter that started their run, and obviously one guy got super hot. We tried a lot of different things to get him shut down,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “But I’m not here to be super picky right now. Good win by our guys.”
It’s true, Minnesota will take what it can get at this point. The win comes off the heels of six losses in seven games. And there were plenty of positives to be found through the first three quarters. The biggest was the play of the much-maligned D’Angelo Russell. The starting point guard struggled mightily through the first 13 games of the season. But he delivered Sunday.
Russell opened the game with a 15-point first quarter on the strength of 6-for-6 shooting. He remained hot through the duration of the contest, finishing with a season-best 30 points on 11-for-13 shooting to go with 12 assists.
The latter was just as important for Minnesota, as the floor general’s ball movement and generosity contributed to one of the team’s best offensive showings in recent memory.
“Just playing the game, just being himself, being aggressive, it sets the tone for us,” Wolves center Rudy Gobert said. “And it wasn’t just about him scoring. I felt like he was really sharp, making the right play, finding the open man. And you can tell that he’s just being himself, playing within the flow of the game. It definitely sets the tone for us.”
Minnesota was shooting 64% from the field through the first 36 minutes. Russell was cooking. Karl-Anthony Towns took advantage of his 1-on-1 matchup with defensive stalwart Evan Mobley to the tune of 29 points on 11-for-16 shooting. Towns also had 13 rebounds, as he and Gobert recorded double-doubles in the same contest for the first time all season.
Minnesota led by as many as 24 points. All was taking form for a Wolves team off to a snail-like start to the season.
The Cavaliers were sans all-stars Jarrett Allen and Donovan Mitchell — plus another rotation player in Dean Wade. That left Cleveland sans many offensive weapons. But it still had Garland.
The all-star guard entered the game shooting 35% from the field and 30% from deep. But left as the lone true offensive threat for the Cavaliers, he fired at will Sunday. He took 16 shots in the final frame, making eight of them — including six triples. He finished the game with 51 points.
“Obviously, Garland got hot,” Gobert said. “We’ll watch film, but when someone gets hot, we’ve got to take that away a little quicker. We took a little too long to react.”
Particularly on a night where there weren’t any other options for Minnesota to truly worry about. No other Cleveland player eclipsed 16 points. The Wolves compounded problems in the final frame by becoming disjointed offensively, going 7 for 21 from the field with four turnovers, all while allowing the Cavaliers to grab six offensive rebounds.
The finish certainly didn’t match the start. Cleveland trailed by 17 with five minutes to play, but moved to within two in the final minute. In the end, though, the Wolves (6-8) held on. With the Cavaliers (8-5) inbounding, down three points with 6.5 seconds to play, Gobert tipped away the in-bounds pass for the game-securing steal.
“We stayed with it. And this is a game that could have slipped away from us, and we didn’t let that happen because we stayed focused,” Gobert said. “We still got some stops when we needed them, and we knocked down our free throws. It’s a good win for us.”
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