CLEVELAND — There was no denying the Cavaliers’ progress during impressive back-to-back victories at Philadelphia and home against the Houston Rockets last weekend.
Sustaining the improvement is another challenge entirely.
Even the presence of Browns starting quarterback Baker Mayfield couldn’t keep the Cavs’ magic alive. The Cavs fought back from a 14-point second-quarter deficit, but still saw the Minnesota Timberwolves snap their five-game losing streak in Cleveland with a 102-95 triumph Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Timberwolves (10-11) improved to 6-2 since All-Star Jimmy Butler was traded on Nov. 12.
Kyle Korver made six 3-pointers and led the Cavs (4-15) with 22 points, both season highs, and Rodney Hood added 20. Tristan Thompson posted his fourth consecutive double-double and 10th of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Larry Nance Jr. contributed 12 points, eight rebounds and a game-high seven assists, and rookie Collin Sexton added 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Robert Covington scored 23 points for the Timberwolves and Karl-Anthony Towns added 21 points with 10 rebounds. Ex-Cav Derrick Rose added 12 points.
The Cavs cut the gap to 71-68 in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Cedi Osman and back-to-back baskets by Nance, one an alley-oop dunk off a Thompson assist. The Cavs trailed 75-71 after three quarters as Sexton hit a layup at the buzzer off a Korver inbounds pass and converted the free throw after being fouled.
But the Cavs made just one of their first four shots to start the fourth as the Timberwolves pushed their advantage to 86-74 with 8:26 remaining. Jordan Clarkson missed a 3-pointer, Nance misfired on a 3 and Korver threw up an air ball from long range. Rose scored six of the ‘Wolves' first 11 points in the fourth quarter.
The Cavs made another run, trimming their deficit to six with 5:49 remaining as Korver made back-to-back 3s and Nance dunked off a Thompson feed. After a ‘Wolves timeout, Clarkson hit a jumper, but Rose countered with a layup and Taj Gibson added a free throw.
The Cavs defense forced a 24-second violation with 2:32 to go and the Cavs countered with a Thompson layup, but Towns made back-to-back baskets for a 95-86 advantage with 1:21 left.
The Cavs were without defensive stopper David Nwaba, out with a sore right knee. Nwaba had started the previous three games and guarded LeBron James, Jimmy Butler and James Harden. Coach Larry Drew replaced Nwaba in the lineup with Nance, who made his fifth start of the season.
Drew had debated going small, starting Korver, Clarkson or Andrew Harrison, which would have prompted Osman’s slide to power forward. But against the Timberwolves’ 7-footer Towns, 6-9 Covington and 6-9 Gibson, Drew decided to try to match Minnesota’s size.
Still sidelined for the Cavs are point guard George Hill (sprained right shoulder), forward Sam Dekker (sprained left ankle) and forward Kevin Love (left foot surgery). Love was on the Cavs' bench and was not wearing his walking boot, but is still weeks away from a return.
The Cavs were outscored 13-2 to start the second quarter, making just 1-of-6 field goals as the Timberwolves opened a 42-28 lead. But Korver ended the drought with a 3 from the top of the key and Sexton followed with a jumper to force a Timberwolves timeout.
The Cavs cut the gap to 54-47 at the half as Hood scored nine points in the final 4:20 of the second quarter and Korver added eight.
In the first half, the Cavs had problems with their reserves, with all four nonstarters posting negative plus-minuses. Clarkson was at minus-16, Ante Zizic minus-8 and Korver and Andrew Harrison both at minus-7.
Thompson nearly recorded a double-double in the first quarter when he scored 10 points and pulled down six rebounds in playing all 12 minutes. The Cavs led 6-0 and 12-7 before the Timberwolves awakened. Jeff Teague scored eight consecutive points late in the quarter as the Timberwolves led 29-26 at the break.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.