CLEVELAND – Exchanging punches until superstar LeBron James delivered the knockout in the game’s final second, the Timberwolves lost 140-138 in overtime Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
To hear Wolves stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler tell it, they lost the game not on a single play executed improbably by the Cavaliers with one mere one second left but with every haymaker thrown at an opponent determined to outscore them from start to finish.
The Wolves made a franchise-record 19 three-pointers, combining with the Cavaliers to set an NBA record for most threes (40) made by both teams, and shot 58 percent from the field. Yet they still lost for the ninth time in their past 10 road games after Cleveland inbounded the ball from beyond halfcourt with just a second left, James caught it and turning, fading away made an 18-foot shot over Butler’s outstretched hand.
James did so while the Wolves had three defenders in the backcourt, far from the basket. Butler was left alone to defend James 18 feet away by himself.
Afterward, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau found 140 reasons for the loss instead of just the final two.
“You’re not going to win in this league if you play defense like that,” he said, referring to his team’s defense, or lack of it, all night.
The Wolves made their 19 threes but allowed the Cavaliers’ 21, six of them by J.R. Smith, five by James, four by Kyle Korver.
Towns made all six three-pointers he attempted Wednesday and set a franchise record by stretching his streak of consecutive threes made to 10, one more than Martell Webster made in April 2011. Butler made his first eight shots from the field and didn’t miss one until late in the third quarter.
Together, they combined to score 75 points but inevitably were outdone by James’ 37-point, 15-assist, 10-rebound triple-double, his ninth this season, his career’s 64th.
“There’s a reason why he’s regarded as one of the best players to play this game,” Towns said.
James proved it once again in overtime’s final 1.3 seconds, if he hadn’t already all night long.
Trailing by eight points with less than four minutes left in regulation time, the Wolves scored 13 of the next 15 points and took a 129-126 lead with 54 seconds left.
James answered back with a three-point shot that stood up the next 45 seconds and sent the game to overtime.
With 24 seconds left in overtime, James muscled past Wiggins for a tying layup. Then as the clock ticked out, he closed fast from the floor’s other side and swatted away Butler’s potential winning shot — a 5-foot floater James blocked with 1.3 seconds left.
“I would never shoot a shot if I didn’t think I’d make it,” Butler said. “I didn’t see him. That’s part of the game.”
Smith grabbed the ball and called timeout, which gave the Cavaliers exactly one second to inbound the ball from beyond halfcourt and score.
Jeff Green heaved the ball far downcourt to James, who caught it, turned and made the shot.
“They made shots, we made shots,” Butler said. “They made one more than we did.”
Thibodeau lamented two times the Wolves took a three-point lead, at fourth quarter’s end and in overtime, and allowed James a tying three-pointer each time.
“They took 41 threes and they made 21,” Thibodeau said. “That’s one too many.”