Timberwolves 103, Cavaliers 92

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Kevin Garnett watched the Minnesota Timberwolves begin to pull away in the fourth quarter. He re-entered the game, finished off the Cleveland Cavaliers and showed why he might be the league’s most valuable player.

Garnett had 35 points and 12 rebounds, including a huge final period that helped the Timberwolves beat the Cavaliers 103-92 on Friday night.

Gary Trent took Garnett’s place with 8:50 left and an 82-all tie. Things started going so well that Garnett actually suggested to coach Flip Saunders he stay on the sideline, but Saunders sent Garnett back in with Minnesota leading 91-85 and 5:52 remaining.

“Hey, I’m not going to keep my MVP on the bench,” Saunders said. “You put him in because of what he does down the stretch.”

Garnett made three jumpers and had two steals in that span and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in the fourth quarter, eliciting a loud “MVP!” chant as the final seconds ticked away.

“We had the flow going our way, and there was really no need to be in there,” Garnett said with a sly smile. “But Flip being Flip …”

The Cavaliers certainly would’ve preferred Garnett remain seated.

“Right now nobody else comes to mind that has a bigger impact on his team,” said Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had 18 points for Cleveland. “He’s 7 feet and when he releases it from the top of the key, there’s no way to get it. You just hope he misses.”

Latrell Sprewell added 24 points, seven assists and a hand in LeBron James’ face much of the night for Minnesota, which won its 14th straight at home and is an NBA-best 26-6 since Dec. 1.

Jeff McInnis scored 21 points and James added 14 for the Cavaliers, who dropped to 5-3 since acquiring McInnis in a trade with Portland.

Fred Hoiberg had eight of his 10 points in final eight minutes for the Timberwolves. He and Sprewell hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Minnesota up 97-88 with 3:48 to go.

Carlos Boozer, an important part of the Cavaliers’ improvement over the past month, was held to 17 points and nine rebounds. He missed two difficult dunks in the third quarter.

James had a quiet night, too, shooting 6-for-18 from the field under heavy pressure from Sprewell and Trenton Hassell. James airballed a 3-pointer and missed two free throws in the final three minutes.

Garnett, this generation’s preps-to-pros pioneer, challenged James on a one-on-one fast break in the third quarter—altering the rookie’s layup and drawing an offensive foul on the 19-year-old.

“I’m glad that he came, and I’m glad that I’m here,” James said, alluding to Garnett entering the draft out of Chicago’s Farragut Academy in 1995.

“He’s amazing to me,” James said. “He knows I’m getting better and he keeps getting better. But if he keeps getting better, oh Lord, he’s taking over the league.”

Garnett, just 7-for-24 from the field for 17 points in Wednesday night’s loss to Atlanta, was 16-for-29 from the field in this high-energy game that featured 23 lead changes and 15 ties.

“Guys just sort of hopped on my back,” Garnett said.

Minnesota’s opponents are shooting under 42 percent this season, third-lowest in the league, but the Timberwolves had their share of defensive troubles in the first half.

Cleveland shot 58.5 percent (24-for-41) before halftime, and Minnesota constantly got beat by the Cavaliers’ fast break.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had 12 first-half points, hit a long baseline jumper at the buzzer that was reviewed and upheld to put Cleveland up 56-51.

“We shot the ball well—that’s the only reason we kind of hung in there,”Saunders said.

Notes

James hit the first 3-pointer of the game for either team with 9:07 left, tying the game at 82. … Sam Cassell added 12 points for the Wolves and went 4-for-4 at the line, extending his consecutive free throw streak to 69. That’s the seventh-longest in NBA history, behind Micheal Williams’ record of 97. … Cleveland is 6-21 on the road. … Minnesota Vikings Michael Bennett and Randy Moss were among the crowd of 19,212—the Wolves’ fourth sellout thisseason.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Cleveland
L. James L. James
6-18,  14 Pts
9 Rebs, 5 Assists
 Minnesota
K. Garnett K. Garnett
16-29,  35 Pts
12 Rebs, 1 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists