CLEVELAND (AP) — Minnesota built a big lead, wasted it and then had to build another one.
“Sometimes,” Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said, “you have to win a game twice.”
Gorgui Dieng scored 22 points, Shabazz Napier had 21 and the Timberwolves blew a 25-point lead before regrouping for a 118-103 victory last Sunday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who may have lost rookie Kevin Porter Jr for an extended period with a knee injury.
The Cavs, who rested star Kevin Love one night after he displayed frustration toward his teammates in a loss, trailed 90-65 with four minutes to go in the third quarter and seemed done. But Dante Exum got hot and his three-pointer with 8:29 left capped a 32-6 blitz to give Cleveland a 97-96 lead.
However, the Timberwolves recovered and scored 14 straight with Dieng dropping two three-pointers during the five-minute stretch to help Minnesota avoid an embarrassing loss.
“We just ran out of gas,” Cavs coach John Beilein said.
Andrew Wiggins came back after missing four games with the flu and scored 15 for the struggling Timberwolves. They won for just the fourth time in 16 games.
“That was a locker room after the game where it didn’t feel like a full road win,” Saunders said. “Our guys knew we came away with one in a situation where Cleveland outplayed us for a good amount of the second half. We did execute and buckle down defensively towards the end. We should feel good about that, but we should also not be satisfied.”
Exum, recently acquired in a trade with Utah, scored a career-high 28 points — 24 in the second half — for the Cavs. Cleveland dropped its fourth in a row amid drama surrounding Love and a potentially serious injury to Porter.
The 30th overall pick last year hurt his left knee in the third quarter when his buckled awkwardly while he tried to change directions. The slender guard immediately grabbed his leg and had to be helped to Cleveland’s locker room.
Following the game, Porter was on crutches as he left the trainers’ room. He was not available for comment.
Exum said it was difficult seeing his new teammate in pain.
“I’ve been through my share of injuries, so it breaks my heart seeing that,” Exum said. “I hope he’s going to be all right. I don’t know the diagnosis right now,”
With the Cavs playing their second straight game, Love sat out for extra rest, his planned absence coming a night after he threw up his arms in disgust several times in a loss to Oklahoma City. Love has been the subject of trade rumours for months and his future in Cleveland has never been more in doubt.
The Timberwolves were without centre Karl-Anthony Towns. He missed his 10th straight game with a sprained left knee.
Minnesota made four three-pointers in the final two minutes of the first half with Robert Covington’s three just before the horn giving the Timberwolves a 66-48 lead.
Timberwolves: Dieng added 13 rebounds. … Wiggins was the number one overall pick by Cleveland in the 2014 draft before the Cavs traded him in the deal for Love. … G Jeff Teague returned after missing two games with a sprained right knee and played 17 minutes.