Jimmy Butler brushed off some early jeers from the jaded home crowd, scoring 33 points in 36 minutes to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves past the Cleveland Cavaliers 131-123 on Friday night.
Andrew Wiggins pitched in with 22 points and Anthony Tolliver hit three 3-pointers off the bench to bolster a vintage all-around effort by the four-time All-Star Butler, who requested a trade last month.
Butler made 10 of 12 field goals and 12 of 12 free throws, with seven rebounds, four steals and three assists to help the Timberwolves (1-1) hold off a late charge by Kevin Love and the LeBron James-less Cavaliers.
Love had 25 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists against his former team, but the Cavaliers (0-2) have a lot of work to do to become a contender again after James bolted for the Los Angeles Lakers. They’ve allowed an average of 123.5 points so far this season.
Wiggins, who was taken with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Cavs only to be traded to the Wolves two months later in the deal for Love, has averaged 27.2 points in nine career games against Cleveland.
The Wolves led 83-62 early in the third quarter, when Love brought the Cavs to life with a 3-pointer that sparked a 24-10 spurt. Love had 13 points in the run.
With a layup by Collin Sexton at the 4:02 mark, the Cavs were within 121-117, their closest since trailing 36-34 early in the second quarter. Cedi Osman’s 3-pointer kept the Cavs within 125-120, but he missed his next one after a scoreless possession by the Wolves.
Osman had 22 points, Jordan Clarkson added 19 points off the bench and Tristan Thompson totaled 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Cavs.
BUTLER DID IT
When the news of Butler’s trade request broke exactly one month ago, the likelihood of him awkwardly suiting up in the home opener for the team he’s seeking to leave was, well, extremely low. Yet here he was, taking the court at Target Center in the home blues with the white trim.
Butler was the first starter introduced during the pregame pageantry, and boos rang out loudly as soon as the public address announcer said, “From Marquette University.” They kept up each time Butler touched the ball on the first five possessions by the Wolves, until he stole a pass by Love in the backcourt and fed Taj Gibson for a dunk. The crowd immediately roared, as if the fans forgot who they were upset with because the play happened so fast.
The four-time All-Star had plenty more highlight-reel dunks and steals from there. Soon enough, some “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants even broke out. The Wolves enjoyed a 52-23 run over a 13-minute stretch until late in the second quarter, taking a 20-point lead on a three-point play by Wiggins that was launched when Karl-Anthony Towns blocked a layup attempt by Osman on the other end to start a fast break.
Cavaliers: Larry Nance Jr. has yet to play this season because of a sprained right ankle, though coach Tyronn Lue said he’s hoping to have the center back soon. “It’s a big loss,” Lue said. “With the team we have, we need everybody.” … J.R. Smith played four minutes after missing the opener with a sore left elbow.
Timberwolves: After scoring 27 points on 8-for-12 shooting on Wednesday, Jeff Teague went 3 for 9 for nine points. … Towns had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Cavaliers: Play the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night in their home opener.
Timberwolves: Travel to Dallas to play on Saturday night. They won all four games against the Mavericks last season.
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