It wasn’t a game that many were expecting the Wolves to win. It wasn’t even necessarily a game that many expected the Wolves to compete heavily in.
But the storyline was there.
On paper, this was a team 10 games below .500, going up against the defending champs. But at the same time, that under .500 squad had won 8 of their last 11, while the defending champs had just gone through a 7-8 January. This was either going to be a continuation of recency, or a step back into what both teams (and fanbases) have grown accustomed to this season.
The latter happened.
The first half was a bit of a combo of both. The Cavs looked sound offensively, but couldn’t find a way to tame the Wolves’ scoring attack, mainly the attack of KAT, Rubio and Wiggins.
But again, the Cavs were still the Cavs offensively. LeBron put himself on a sound scoring pace, Kyrie Irving tied his first half career high in assists (10), and Tristan Thompson did all the “scrappy role player” things he does best. And when the second half hit, the defending champs kept their pace. The young, still-learning Wolves did not.
The half got away from them almost immediately, and it wasn’t from the usual suspects. Channing Frye got off to a hot start with a quarter-starting three pointer, and followed soon after with an unusual and-one dunk. Frye, in for the injured Kevin Love (which I guess took away another narrative in itself), had one of his highest-efficiency performances of the year, and did the majority of his damage in that third quarter.
But the majority of the second half belonged to…wait for it….you’ll never guess who…. LeBron James. Not only was he able to out-muscle Andrew Wiggins in the post for easy buckets on nearly any occasion he wanted, he was also a wizard with his passing. None of this is new for anyone who has watched the NBA for the last 13 years, but it’s still a dazzle to watch, even against your favorite team.
I mean, man, come on.
All of this wasn’t typical of the Cavs in January, but it was expected that the defending champs were going to find their footing at some point, and the possibly overconfident (and, not coincidentally) recently successful Timberwolves were the perfect team to get back on track against.
The Wolves have won games recently, and looked flat out impressive in doing so. These games were against mostly poor competition, but they weren’t flukes that they fell into. They were games that they fought hard in and won. But, like any young team, a string of wins is going to bring a level of confidence. With confidence can come a level of cockiness.
This isn’t to say, of course, that the game was lost because the Wolves got cocky. The Wolves lost because LeBron James is a mutant human with basketball superpowers, and has an extremely (and relatively) solid supporting cast to work with. The Cleveland Cavaliers are better at basketball, and played like it tonight. In the past month, it might have been different, but it looks like they tapped into something. It looks like they figured something out about themselves again. The Wolves were just in the way when it happened.