MINNEAPOLIS — Cleveland’s young backcourt showed just enough composure to overcome an otherwise rough night taking care of the ball.
Rookie Darius Garland and second-year backcourt partner Collin Sexton each scored 18 points, and the Cavaliers overcame an NBA season tying-high 29 turnovers to hold off the Minnesota Timberwolves 94-88 on Saturday.
“Never, ever, ever,” coach John Beilein responded when asked if he could recall winning a game despite committing that many turnovers. “I’m trying to put it all together. It’s not like we shot the lights out either, but our defense was the difference.”
Garland scored seven points in the fourth quarter, including five in the game-deciding run. The Wolves had finally brought their home crowd to life with a 9-0 run that allowed them to go up 78-77 with 6:44 left, their first lead since 2-0.
But Larry Nance Jr. regained Cleveland’s lead on a follow shot and Tristan Thompson hit a pair of free throws to start a 10-2 run. Garland had a 3-pointer and a jumper during the run. Kelan Martin’s 3-pointer with 16.5 seconds left pulled Minnesota to 90-87, but Sexton hit two foul shots with 14 seconds remaining to put it away.
It was an ugly game missing top scorers from both teams. Cleveland led for most the night before needing its quick rally.
“Showed a lot of resiliency,” Thompson said. “This team is fighting; we’ve won four out of the last five games, so something is going in the right direction.”
A night after scoring 30 in Boston, Cavs veteran forward Kevin Love sat in street clothes while nursing a right hip contusion. Cleveland all but tried to give the game away with a rash of poor ballhandling and passes — the 29 turnovers tied Sacramento’s mark, set Dec. 15 at Golden State.
Luckily for Cleveland, though, Minnesota was missing its two best players. The Wolves struggled to get any offensive flow without Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) and Andrew Wiggins (flu-like symptoms). The Cavs also took advantage of Towns’ absence on the boards, grabbing a season-high 61 rebounds.
“Tonight, we stayed in the game, but once again it wasn’t pretty,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “It’s not one of those things where those two guys are out so we completely scrap a system.”
Jeff Teague scored 18 points and fellow reserve Martin had 17 for Minnesota. Robert Covington added 14.
“A win is a win, but but this got a little bit ugly and we got to fix some things,” Nance said.
The Wolves, who were coming off their first win in 12 games after a double-overtime victory in Sacramento on Thursday, lost their ninth straight home game. They had a season-high 17 steals and scored 27 points off Cleveland’s turnovers, but were done in by a horrendous night on the perimeter and the boards.
The Cavaliers outrebounded Minnesota 61-39, and the Wolves — one of the NBA’s worst 3-point shooting teams — hit only 8 of 37 from behind the arc.
“We didn’t knock down a lot of shots. We left a lot of points on the board, finishing at the rim and stuff. The game was there for us to take, but like I said we just didn’t execute,” Covington said.
Thompson added 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers and served as Cleveland’s veteran presence on the floor with Love out. A night after playing nearly 30 minutes in Boston, he logged 35 minutes against the Timberwolves and made his presence felt despite shooting only 2 of 9.
Thompson went 8 of 10 from the foul line.
“He was relentless in rebounding offensively, but particularly defensively. Protected the rim … he was the heart and soul of our team in many ways,” Beilein said.
Cavaliers: Nance started in Love’s spot. “We thought this would be a good day for him to just rest it, let it calm down,” Beilein said of Love, who equaled his season high for scoring Friday. ... Garland started despite straining his right ankle on Friday night.
Timberwolves: Saunders said Towns, who missed his sixth game, has been “progressing” but didn’t provide a timetable for his return. “I know it’s not the answer everybody probably wants to hear, but that’s what I have, is that he’s progressing,” Saunders said. ... F Gorgui Dieng was held to five points on 2-of-8 shooting after averaging 15.6 the previous five games.
Cavaliers: Finish their three-game road trip on Tuesday at Toronto.
Timberwolves: Host Brooklyn on Monday.