CLEVELAND: As the points piled up too quickly for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the seconds didn’t tick away fast enough for the Cavaliers, an eerie feeling similar to last year began filling Quicken Loans Arena.
Four times last season, the Cavaliers lost games they led by at least 20 points, and in the final seconds Monday night, the first one this season seemed inevitable. But Kevin Love’s 3-pointer in the final seconds clanked off the back of the rim and the Cavs handed the Timberwolves their first loss with a 93-92 victory.
Coach Mike Brown didn’t witness all of last season’s collapses in person, but he saw them all on film.
“There were times from watching the tape this summer, when I watched them last year, that would’ve been a loss possibly and maybe by double digits,” Brown said. “We just kept scrapping and scrapping.”
Brown conceded some of the players may have started watching the clock as the lead dwindled under 20, then under 10 and finally down to a single point. The Timberwolves scored 17 of the game’s final 19 points. The Cavs’ last basket was scored by Kyrie Irving with 2:43 left, then the Cavs held on for dear life, although Irving insisted he didn’t have flashbacks to last season while the lead vanished.
“I don’t think about last year,” Irving said. “It’s about this year and we’ve got to learn from it. Last year it could’ve gone either way. But we got a stop at the end and that’s all that matters.”
C.J. Miles had 19 points off the bench, Andrew Bynum had 10 points and four rebounds in his most extensive action yet and Irving had 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists and nine turnovers.
The Cavs missed their final five shots after shooting 55 percent in the first half.
Irving had a chance to put the Cavs up by 3 on their final possession, but he waived off a screen from Anderson Varejao because he wanted to take J.J. Barea off the dribble. Irving got to the spot he wanted with little trouble, but missed the shot, giving the Timberwolves a chance to win it at the buzzer.
“Coach Brown was calling for Andy to come set a screen and I really don’t need that screen at the top of the key against J.J. Barea, no offense,” Irving said. “Especially at the end of the game, I want to take it upon myself to be aggressive in that moment. At the top of the key, everybody’s flat, it’s my chance to kind of go to work.”
Barea lost possession while trying to drive, then pushed the ball to Love, who was named the Western Conference Player of the Week earlier in the day.
The rebound from his miss caromed back toward halfcourt and time expired while players from both teams dove for the rebound.
“Obviously we still have to figure out how to close games the right way on both ends of the floor,” Brown said. “Bottom line is we had to get a stop to win it and our guys somehow, some way got a stop. Kevin Love is a great shooter, but he took a contested 3, so you live with that and go from there. People can say you shouldn’t have been in that spot. I’m not running away from that, but we were there and we won the game.”
Bynum played nearly 19 minutes in his third game of the season. He played in both halves, the first time he made more than one appearance in a game as he continues his rehab after missing all of last season with knee problems.
With the extended minutes, the offense had a chance to run through Bynum more than either of his other appearances. He even made a 15-foot jumper, showing off range he rarely showed during his days with the Lakers. The improvement is evident, but Bynum still wants more.
“I’m not very patient,” he said. “I want to be back where I was. Everybody is trying to keep my head up and keep me motivated and focused. It’ll come back.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.