Player grades from Minnesota Timberwolves’ win over Cavaliers

Shabazz Napier, Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Shabazz Napier, Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves blew a huge second-half lead before coming back themselves to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers by double-figures on Sunday in Cleveland.

118. 86. 103. 156. Final

Whew, that was close.

The Minnesota Timberwolves led by 25 points with four minutes to go in the third quarter, but a pair of massive runs by the Cleveland Cavaliers put them ahead by a 97-96 margin with eight-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth quarter.

But the Wolves pushed back with a 14-0 run and the Cavs only made one field goal over the finally eight-plus minutes. (Officially two, but John Henson’s tip-in was actually knocked in by Gorgui Dieng.)

It was the Wolves’ starting lineup that was primarily responsible for building the big lead, and after the reserve unit gave it all back, the starters came back in to save the day.

Every single starter finished with a plus-minus of +19 or better, and four of the five top minutes-getters off the bench (Jeff Teague, Kelan Martin, Keita Bates-Diop, and Naz Reid) finished at -11 or worse — and most of that damage was done in the second half after a strong first-half stint for the reserves.

The Wolves built their initial lead primarily by creating turnovers and scoring in the open floor and shooting the ball well from 3-point range. Dieng and Shabazz Napier were once again the best players with a strong performance from Robert Covington and a decent showing from Andrew Wiggins in his first game back from a four-game absence due to illness.

It was Wiggins who canned a huge three immediately after the Cavs took their one-point lead in the fourth quarter. Then, Covington free throw and another bucket from Wiggins before Dieng and Napier essentially took the game over by effectively operating the pick-and-roll game.

This was the first time the Wolves have won consecutive games since Nov. 25 and 27, which immediately preceded the 11-game losing streak.

Player Grades

A. Another game, another strong performance from Shabazz Napier. It was just last Saturday that he shot 3-for-17 against the Cavaliers, but this time around, he was fantastic. Napier shot 8-of-10 from the field, 2-for-3 from the 3-point arc, and 3-for-3 from the free throw line. He added seven assists, two rebounds, and a steal with only one turnover in 30 minutes.. Guard. Minnesota Timberwolves. SHABAZZ NAPIER

A+. Gorgui Dieng was awesome. After Cavaliers television analyst Brad Dougherty chuckled and said “we’ll give him that shot all night” after Dieng narrowly missed a three from the wing in the first quarter, Gorgui went to town on the poor Cavs. He finished with 22 points (8-10 FG, 4-5 3P, 2-2 FT), 13 rebounds, six assists, and four blocks in just 29 minutes. That’s right — he didn’t miss another 3-pointer after that snide remark from Dougherty. With no Kevin Love and no Tristan Thompson, Dieng was able to do whatever he wanted in this one.. Center. Minnesota Timberwolves. GORGUI DIENG

B+. Robert Covington had another RoCo-like game, finishing with 15 points (5-13 FG, 4-10 3P, 1-2 FT), four rebounds, four steals, and two assists. He was ready to pull the trigger all night long, and was effective on defense as well.. Forward. Minnesota Timberwolves. ROBERT COVINGTON

B. Andrew Wiggins made his return from a four-game absence due to illness, and was clearly knocking some rust off in the first half. But he came on strong in the second half, ultimately putting up 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He did shoot just 6-of-19 from the floor and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc, but his the biggest 3-pointer of the night to put the Wolves back on top midway through the fourth quarter.. Wing. Minnesota Timberwolves. ANDREW WIGGINS

Guard. Minnesota Timberwolves. JARRETT CULVER. B+. Jarrett Culver was really good in this one. After a couple inefficient outings in a row, he was 6-for-11 overall and 2-for-4 from beyond the arc on Sunday. He also added four steals, three rebounds and three assists, had only one turnover, and was a team-best +33 in 28 minutes.

Other Players

This was a tale of two halves for the bench. They were great in the first half, led by strong minutes from Naz Reid and Kelan Martin and a mostly effective return for Jeff Teague, who had sat out the past two games due to a sprained knee.

Reid finished with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting and had a couple of impressive plays on offense, including a pump-fake from the corner, crossover, and sweeping hook shot on one play and a fantastic backdoor pass to a cutting Culver for a dunk on another.

Martin shot 4-of-10 en route to a bench-high nine points but had a team-worst -23 in the plus-minus column.

Teague had five points and five assists with only one turnover in 17 minutes. Josh Okogie was active with five rebounds, an assist, and a steal to go along with his four points. Bates-Diop had just one point in 14 minutes of play.

Vonleh played eight first-half minutes in his return after missing three games with a glut injury and had four points and three rebounds. Jordan Bell only played in garbage time.

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Up Next

The Wolves head to Memphis for a Tuesday night showdown as they look for their first victory in three tries against the Grizzlies.