The Cleveland Cavaliers were playing a game fourth in five nights, on the road no less, which is usually a bad omen.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team of young athletes and vets with low mileage due to sitting out with injuries.
For three quarters, both of those things were readily apparent. Kyrie Irving (4-16), J.R. Smith (2-7), and Kevin Love (6-14) missed shots in about every way you can miss them: Short, flat, Long, Air Balls, it was all there. After allowing Minnesota to score only 21 in the first, they bowed and surrendered 58 in quarters two and three. Timberwolves rookie Andrew Wiggins scored 23 at the half and added eight in the third for 31 points through three quarters.
That brings us to the fourth quarter. With the Cavs engaged in a shootout they didn't expect, and the team looking exhausted, David Blatt made some moves. Little used Mike Miller, and reserves Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson would play most of the way, with Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov, and Smith not seeing the court again. These are the times when your deep bench must show up, and oh yeah, it helps to have a well rested LeBron James.
When they needed him most, LeBron arrived. Noticeably fresher than his beleaguered teammates, James put up 16 points in the fourth quarter. Andrew Wiggins? He scored just two, harassed mostly by James. Tristan Thompson put the clamps on Nikola Pekovic, who had been giving the Cavs all sorts of trouble all night. Thompson had three blocks in the fourth quarter. Matthew Dellavedova hit a few timely threes, and the threat was ended. Minnesota scored just 11 in the fourth.
James led the Cavs with 36, followed by Timofey Mozgov's 14, and Kevin Love's 14 points and 17 rebounds. Thompson finished with 13 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Wiggins, with a career high of 33 (barely missing the Timberwolves rookie record of 35) led Minnesota, joined by 19 from Thaddeus Young and 14 a piece from Pekovic and Kevin Martin.
The Cavs are off until Monday, when they host the Philadelphia 76ers.