CLEVELAND — There was some controversy and a little room for second-guessing, but of this there can be no dispute: The Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t very good.
In a battle between two teams that figure to have pretty good odds of winning the draft lottery, the Cavs were worse when it mattered most, crumbling in the final minutes and losing 98-97 Sunday evening at Quicken Loans Arena.
“It’s a tough game to swallow,” Cleveland point guard Mo Williams said. “Obviously, this is the hardest loss we’ve had. We handily had the game in control and let it slip away.”
The Cavs (8-22), who had the fifth-worst record in the league coming into the game, led by 14 with 7:55 to go and by 10 with five minutes left, but still lost for the 13th time in their last 14 outings.
They did so against a Minnesota (7-24) team that began the night with the second-worst record in the league, had lost seven straight and 15 of 17 and was 1-17 on the road.
“It was almost like we were scared to win the game,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “When you want to win a game, you’ve got to go take it.”
The Timberwolves, who got 28 points from Michael Beasley, 23 points, five rebounds and six assists from Luke Ridnour and 16 points and 18 boards from Kevin Love, did just that, but not without a bit of controversy and second-guessing.
After Antawn Jamison (season-high-tying 24 points) put the Cavs up 97-96 by beating Beasley and making a swooping, one-handed shot over a leaping Love with 10.6 seconds left, Minnesota called timeout.
Scott subbed Jamario Moon for the defensively deficient Williams, but left the slow-footed Jamison on Beasley, who got the ball at the top of the key, quickly beat the 34-year-old to the hoop and made a right-handed layup over a leaping Moon with 5.9 ticks on the clock.
“We wanted him to go right,” Scott said of the left-handed Beasley. “He was able to get to his right a little quicker (than the Cavs wanted) and get to the basket. You’ve got to give him credit.”
After a Cleveland timeout, Williams inbounded to Jamison, who drew some contact from Beasley while missing an off-balance jumper, with no whistles being blown for a foul. Love, who had 14 points in the final period, grabbed his 18th and last rebound of the night and time ran out.
“He came up to me and said, ‘I fouled you,’” Jamison said of Beasley. “But it should never have gotten to that point.”
The Cavs, who played without Daniel Gibson (flu-like symptoms), got a great game from Anthony Parker (season-high 21 points, seven rebounds, season-high seven assists), 17 points, five boards and 11 assists from Williams, 11 points from J.J. Hickson and three big 3-pointers from Jawad Williams, but they fell apart down the stretch instead of burying the Timberwolves when they had the chance.
Cleveland led 88-74 after a Hickson drive, promptly gave up seven straight points, then built its lead back to 91-81 with 5:24 to go. A 3-pointer by Love, two more by Ridnour and — bang, bang, bang — it was a one-point game in a matter of 1:26.
There were five lead changes in the final 2:13, when a number of Cavs didn’t seem to want the ball and even fewer appeared willing to shoot it.
“As the game got tighter, it seemed like we didn’t know who was supposed to take the shots,” Jamison said.
As a result, the Cavs had a number of possessions where they were forced to hoist terrible shots to beat the 24-second clock, while the more aggressive and looser Timberwolves kept attacking and taking their first good opportunity.
“I don’t think down the stretch we handled the game like we were supposed to,” said Mo Williams, who contributed to the problem with a huge turnover with 32 seconds left and the Cavs up one.
Jawad Williams agreed, saying the Cavs stopped playing the Timberwolves and started playing the clock, and “it came back to bite us in the end.”
When the losing will end is uncertain. Orlando comes to town Tuesday, then the Cavs play two games on the road, where they haven’t won since Nov. 9, before hosting Dallas next Sunday.
“This one stings a little more than almost any one this season,” Scott said. “We had it with three minutes left in the game. We really had the game won.”
Jamison agreed, saying the game should not have come down to the final possession.
“We should never have been in that situation,” he said. “They did a great job of hitting some shots and we kind of got discombobulated.”
- Mo Williams had nine points in the first 3:20 of the game as the Cavs went up 16-3, but had eight points the rest of the way on 3-for-13 shooting. He also had five turnovers and escaped a handful of others due to fortunate bounces.
- The Timberwolves made 20 of 22 free throws (.909), while the Cavs went 7-for-13 (.538).
- Cleveland’s 30 assists were a season high.
- Parker scored 15 points in the second half.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org